WHEN MOMENTUM AGREED TO ORGANISE The World Transformed (TWT) festival at Labour Party Conference, it was a shot in the dark. Given the festival was being held a considerable distance away from the official Conference, it could have easily have become an expensive flop. As it turned out, the four day event worked out far better than anyone could have imagined with long queues of people waiting to get into many of the sessions.
The festival was held in the former Congregational Church centre, previously dubbed as Liverpool’s third cathedral. As a non-conformist centre the church hall had been used for over a century to host all kinds of radical meetings, until finally being set up as a community, exhibition and concert venue in the mid-1960s. Now know as the Black-E, the venue is a veritable warren of meeting spaces which made it an ideal venue to host the many fringe meetings and workshops.
The festival opened to huge cheers as a packed main auditorium witnessed the historic re-election of Jeremy Corbyn live on a big screen. This positive spirit flowed on through all the meetings and social gatherings, with the participants approaching each discussion in a mood of optimism and determination to transform the Labour Party and society as a whole.
The first thing that the festival offered was a relaxed and stimulating place for Labour Party members and other left wing activists to interact, and thereby avoid the expensive and over-commercial atmosphere of the official Conference, a negative aspect that was introduced during the Blair years. The festival also gave space for people to listen to new ideas and react to them. Amazingly, even conservative media commentators described The World Transformed festival as the place where the future policies of the Labour Party were being formed, where the ‘buzz’ was.
As someone who was there helping to launch the Media Response Unit, I was naturally most concerned with participating in the sessions on the media. These meetings highlighted the massive right wing bias in the media, outlining how it related to the highly concentrated ownership by right wing commercial interests of the newspapers, and the neoliberal management in the television stations. The meetings examined potential alternatives from social media, citizen journalism up to the need for our own TV and radio channels.
On a broader view, the festival examined a really wide range of issues from basic incomes, the environment, the controversial question of antisemitism, right through to Michael Roberts outlining why he thinks another big slump is fast approaching. There was an excellent session on the future role of Momentum which threw up a myriad of ideas.
Meanwhile, the LRC fringe rally held in the main auditorium was not only massively attended, with large numbers turned away, but certainly had the most powerful speeches of the whole event. Of course, the festival had its shortcomings. A lot of important questions were not dealt with because many people did not know about the festival in enough time for them to apply for fringe meetings. Obviously, this will not be a problem for next year. Indeed the difficulty for the organisers will be how to decide between all the applications for meetings. More importantly, I think that in many of the fringe meetings we need to move away from top tables with too many speakers and therefore little time for audience reaction, towards a more participatory format, allowing those attending to also share their thoughts and suggestions.
On the social side, the evening live music provided was far too retro even for this 62 year old! Can we leave 1920s and 1950s music for other events and play more contemporary music, perhaps some Latin, African and other traditions too? Perhaps reflecting this, there were few people in the festival from ethnic minorities, something that the organisers need especially to address for next year.
That said, TWT was a triumph and those who came up with the idea and saw it translated into reality deserve our congratulations. So too do the young volunteers who worked so hard to make it happen. Certainly, we have now established a new tradition for future Labour Party conferences, but hopefully with the festival physically closer to the main Conference. Indeed, there are now suggestions of regional TWT festivals to allow more people to participate and input their ideas into future policies for the labour movement. Bring it on!
is a member of Westminster CLP and Westminster Momentum.