George Binette

Diary of a first time delegate, aged 563/4

George Binette

Saturday 24th September: The train is heaving with a combination of Liverpool FC supporters, conference delegates and others attending Momentum’s ‘The World Transformed’. I chat with an Anfield pilgrim. Turns out he’s an enthusiastic Corbyn supporter.

Arrive at Lime Street with little prospect of getting to conference centre in time for the announcement so walk to hotel to learn it’s a solid win. Over 506,000 votes cast, but how many excluded?!

Sunday 25th September: Ah, so that’s Iain McNicol, party general secretary; starts with acknowledging Corbyn’s “decisive victory”, then proceeds for several minutes as though it had never happened.

Earlier a softly spoken Harry Donaldson, chair of Conference Arrangements, asked us to accept whatever the outgoing NEC asks of us, including a slew of rule amendments. Rumblings of disquiet. As the morning concludes it’s also clear that win the General Election. There was more detail, more of what sounded like plans being put in place.

What the Party needs to do now is unite behind Jeremy and make it work. The members have spoken - and if PLP members want to disagree with them again and challenge again, I don’t think that many party members would take that lying down.

London’s delegations don’t begin to reflect a growing, changing party membership. Still, the ballot on priority motions goes reasonably well, and John McDonnell goes out of his way to meet Durham TAs who lobby Conference.

Monday 26th September: A more than vaguely familiar face – oh yes, it’s John McTernan and he is sat among London delegates, compulsively chewing a pen and tapping his smartphone furiously. And shades of déjà vu as former Unison President, Wendy Nichols, is in the chair. Behave, I tell myself!

Clive Lewis sparks a Twitter storm with a barely qualified endorsement of NATO and tacit acceptance of Trident renewal. The afternoon proves altogether different with Shadow DWP Secretary, Debbie Abrahams, committing Labour to abolishing Work Capability Assessment and clips from Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake. Further evidence of changing times comes with a speech from US union official Steve Courtney, who gives an inspiring account of the ‘Fight for $15’ campaign that has scored some significant victories for low-paid workers.

Tuesday 27th September: Attempts to force a reference back of Conference Arrangements’ report fails with chair Paddy Lillis playing senior railway conductor. Some 15 NEC amendments pass in one go with opposition speakers clearly ignored. Not surprised that the Unison delegation backs the NEC, but the contrast between Len McCluskey’s fire-breathing rhetoric and Unite’s abstention is stark.

In the afternoon ‘red baiting’ from Tom Watson. Perhaps a career in stand-up beckons for the deputy leader: he’s quite good at putting down hecklers.

Wednesday 28th September: After swallowing bitter pills on Tuesday, excitement and trepidation in advance of the leader’s speech. Old acquaintance, Sheila Coleman, a stalwart of the Hillsborough Justice Campaign introduces Jeremy, who seems to have mastered the autocue. Corbyn is confident and comfortable over the course of an hour, and a rumoured walk-out never materialises. Crucially, he stands up for migrants and seems to win over those doubters genuinely prepared to listen - an uplifting end to five days riddled with more than usual contradictions.  

Chair of Camden Trades Council and trade union co-ordinator, Hackney North CLP