Below is the full speech given by Jennie Formby, Labour’s general secretary, at Labour conference 2018 today.
Thank you Chair.
Conference, it’s a huge honour to be elected as General Secretary of our great party, only the second woman in the history of our movement to hold that position and with our party at the strongest it has ever been with over half a million members.
I joined the party when I joined my trade union, over 40 years ago now. Not long afterwards I was excited to be elected as a ward organiser. But never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would stand before you as General Secretary. So I’m very proud.
When I was ward organiser I was thrilled when our ward won our first seat from the Tories in many years. And my determination to win has never diminished since that date.
Of course we face many challenges. But they’re challenges I believe we can overcome. As a woman who has fought sexism and misogyny my whole life, I take sexual harassment very seriously. That’s why I’ve personally overseen a further review of our procedures to deal with sexual harassment. There were a number of improvements before I took office but they’re still not good enough to give every member the confidence that if they face problems of sexual harassment or assault
they know they will be taken seriously and their complaints dealt with properly
So the NEC Disputes working group has been working on this as well as other issues. And I hope you will support the rule changes on this to make sure our whole complaints process is fit for purpose. Most of us have been trade unionists our whole life. So we expect nothing less and we will accept nothing less.
And antisemitism too has been in the headlines for many months. There is no point in denying it’s made for hard reading.
But we’ve made significant progress on dealing with it:
- We’ve fully implemented the recommendations of the Chakrabarti report
- We’ve appointed an in-house counsel
- We’ve adopted a Code of Conduct that we are continuing to consult on
- We’ve set up special panels of the Disputes Committee that have cleared all outstanding cases that have been put before the NEC
- We’ve made recommendations on rule changes – that I hope you will support – to more than double the NCC and to set clear time limits for cases to be heard
- And we’re now embarking on consultation on an extensive education and training programme to ensure our members truly understand the issues
There is no place for antisemitism anywhere in our movement or in society and we will always take action when it is identified. Our party is nothing if we don’t stand united against oppression and in solidarity with our Jewish brothers and sisters.
But equally we recognise that the most frequent complaints arise when the issues of Israel and Palestine are discussed. So we must ensure that our members have the tools and language to be able to debate those vitally important issues. We cannot allow the voices of the Palestinian people to be silenced and members must be able to speak out about the terrible injustices that they face. But freedom of expression does not mean freedom to be antisemitic, and it’s our responsibility to ensure our members understand what is and what is not acceptable.
Over coming months we will also be developing more detailed political education and training materials to help us to tackle all forms of racism, including Islamophobia. Something the Tories have failed to tackle in their own party yet they dare to try to take the moral high ground. We must never forget that the Tories are the party that so has so shamefully betrayed the Windrush generation again and again.
But we are better than that. We are united by our class and by our ideals. We are all striving for a fairer and more equal society and we won’t allow anyone to divide us against each other.
That’s why unity is so important. We’re facing a Conservative party more divided than ever in its history. A Tory Government that’s devastating our communities;
driving four and a half million children into poverty, 12% of our entire population living in ‘persistent’ poverty with food banks the norm.
Jacob Rees Mogg said he thought the existence of foodbanks ‘was uplifting’. Well I’ve got a message for him: Foodbanks are not uplifting, they drag us down as a society. It’s a disgrace that they’re needed in 21st century Britain.
Tory policy has left hospitals struggling to cope, social care failing the most vulnerable, millions living in sub-standard accommodation, an infrastructure that’s collapsing and instead of our children having a brighter future than we did, they face a bleak world with fewer opportunities.
So we have an absolute responsibility to unite to beat this callous and cruel Government. And that means setting an example from the top down. All of us whether senior officials, MPs or other elected members, or our huge army of members on the ground; we must stand united behind Jeremy Corbyn, our elected leader, united to fight the Tories and to return a Labour Government.
I’ve got three priorities for our party in the coming months. To organise, to grow and to win. We must organise to mobilise our vast army of supporters to join us in campaigning. And we must grow our party. Keep driving membership forward every week; giving us financial security and more importantly, strengthening that campaigning army.
And our constant objective must always be to win. Winning people to our policies and our vision of what a Labour Government will deliver. Winning councils to transform our communities and of course winning a general election – the sooner the better.
This determination to organise, grow and win is even more important when we’re faced with a Tory Government hell bent on gerrymandering our electoral system. With their plans both to push through boundary changes to reduce the number of constituencies and to extend voter ID at polling stations. Two moves that strike at the heart of our democracy, both designed to give them a built in advantage.
They may have pushed their planned boundary changes into the long grass for now so absorbed are they in their infighting over the Brexit shambles they’ve created. But with a system that we know will disproportionately affect Labour seats, it’s too important for them to shelve so we must be ready for it.
Voter ID is just as undemocratic. There is no evidence of widespread electoral fraud. So no justification for this move. It’s just yet another Tory ploy to attack our democracy and silence opposition. We fought for the right to vote. We will not let the Tories take that right away.
So as well as highlighting and challenging these underhand tactics in every way we can, we will be running high profile voter registration campaigns targeting young people in particular, exposing the Tories’ contempt for democracy and making sure no-one is disenfranchised.
And that’s why Labour’s Community Organising initiative is so important. Jeremy Corbyn’s vision of community organising is at last becoming a reality. Over the last six months we’ve recruited community organisers in every region and community organising will be at the heart of everything we do. Completely integrated within the regions and working with members and CLPs – building bottom up, member led, people-powered organising campaigns, identifying leaders in every community to take those campaigns forward and building self-sustaining campaigning structures.
And they’re already doing incredible things. Our vibrant barnstorming events in key marginals have been attracting huge numbers – turning up in their hundreds in places like Walsall, Glasgow, Mansfield, Hastings. Attracting so many people, excited by our ideas, that in some towns they can’t fit into the venues and spill out on to the streets. Fantastic stuff.
Genuine community engagement is also an absolute priority so I’ve made it a key objective for our regions and community organising teams. In many areas we’ve neglected key black and minority ethnic communities, taken them for granted and only going to them when we want to ask for their votes or financial support. That isn’t good enough so we will be significantly stepping up our engagement with all BAME communities.
I’m very excited to announce the new Bernie Grant leadership programme to be launched in the autumn. This will mirror the successful Joe Cox leadership programme for women but aimed specifically at BAME members. And I’ve asked our regions to develop similar initiatives at regional level, working hand in hand with all underrepresented groups, both to engage with every part of our hugely diverse membership to build confidence to stand for office and to make us truly representative of the communities we live and work in. But also to listen to those communities, to understand what issues matter most to them and work with them to develop strong and vibrant campaigns around those issues – making a reality of two our most important principles, principles that must drive everything we do.
Solidarity and collectivism. Together with our vision for a better future. This must be the glue that binds us together.
I’d just like to finish by saying a huge thank you.
Thank you to every one of our five hundred and fifty thousand members. You’re the back-bone of our party. Out in all weathers, week in week out, making a difference. Without our members’ involvement, we’re nothing. That’s why the democracy review that we’ll be discussing today is so important. It’s our members’ chance for their voice to be heard.
And with members like you I know that we can win. Win for our families, win for our communities. Win a Labour Government that will transform the lives of so many people with Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister, for the many, not the few.
Have a great conference!