As you may have read in our previous blog post, or seen on the news, it has been political party conference season. Politicians, lobbyists, businesses, experts, think tanks, journalists and party members come together and discuss policies and topics on everything from democracy to transport. This week we attended the Labour Party conference and visited lots of fringe events, read about our highlights below!
The highlight for me (Rebecca) had to be MyLifeMySay's event on 'Empowering Youth in Politics'. It sounded like Lisa Nandy MP said that the Labour Party is committed to Votes at 16. She stressed that as soon as you become an MP you're hit by a wall of noise from people who want you to take up their cause. This means that to get your voices heard you have to do two things - make noise and vote. Kwajo Tweneboa challenged this and said parties want young people to turn up and vote for them then they need to have an offer for young people. Amy Hart was a brilliant addition to the panel, talking about how influencers are using their platforms to campaign and providing top tips on how to connect with your audience. Mete Coben raised the issue of low pay for councillors combined with the time and money needed to campaign for an election often rules out young people from running for election.
Social mobility and smashing the 'class ceiling' were core to Keir's speech and in lots of the fringe events that take place outside of the main stage. Large companies are starting to ask their employees and publish reports on the 'class gap', in other words, the pay gap between people who grew up in households with high and low socioeconomic status. The comment that's stuck with me was from Jim McMahon MP - people don't want a handout, but they'll put their hand up to take an opportunity.
It was great to hear from such a range of panellists on this topic: Jim McMahon MP; Dan Norris, Mayor of West England; Jennifer Lee, KPMG; Sarah Atkinson,CEO, Social Mobility Foundation; Hermione Hudson, PwC (Head of Audit and Management Board Member); Shirine Khoury-Haq, Co-operative Group; Carl Cullinane, Sutton Trust; Aimee Sheilds, Kings College London student.
IPPR panel, Unequal Democracy – The puzzle of rising inequality in democracy, also featured lots of discussion on social mobility and how democracy needs to be more equal. The panel featuring Parth Patel (IPPR), Rhea Wolfson (GMB union), Chris Webb (Labour PPC) and Angela Rayner (deputy leader of the Labour Party, discussed the many inequalities currently present including the gap in voter turnout, representation of working-class people within parliament and the differences in who’s speaking and who’s listening in the political sphere. Angela Rayner highlighted the need for good representation in order to have a functioning government and talked about how the New Deal for Working People can help improve that. I (Elisha) was very happy to hear the IPPR call for a big improvement in civic education in schools, they believe it needs to happen as they would like to see the voting age lowered to 16. Do you think we should lower the voting age?
The discussions on inequality weren’t just limited to democracy either. The Education Policy Institute and Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities hosted a panel looking at education policy to tackle disadvantage and inequality. The panel, including Shadow Secretary for Education Bridget Phillipson and Children’s Commissioner Rachel De Souza, discussed issues from the teacher retention crisis to mental health and the impact that’s having on school attendance post-pandemic. Sally Burtonshaw, Associate Director in Public First’s Education Practice, shared some interesting insights on potential causes of the attendance crisis. Throughout discussions and during questions, Bridget Phillipson emphasized her desire to get back to evidence-based policymaking. Honourable mention to David Hughes from the Association of Colleges, who answered our question about political and civic education with great passion, highlighting the many benefits we shout about!
Whilst we're a democracy organisation there were LOTS of sessions about the green economy and climate change. Rebecca attended one that was run by the company she used to work at, on their climate change policy work. Miatta Fahnbulleh, CEO of the New Economic Foundation stressed the need for people to be able to see the tangible benefits of the shift to a low-carbon economy. The panel highlighted that the risk tools being used by the government to assess the impact of climate risk are dangerously optimistic and we need to be preparing for the climate change that is already happening and well as trying to prevent catastrophic temperature rises.
Central to the Labour Party’s plan for the environment is their Green New Deal, Elisha went along to the Tony Blair Institute’s In Conversation with Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves, to hear more about that and her economic plans for the country. The Shadow Chancellor explained how she wants parts of the country that powered the industrial revolution the first time to take the lead in the new Green one, meaning that growth with be felt by people in all parts of the UK. She spoke about opportunities for new industries like carbon capture can help create jobs and grow industries that will grow the UK’s economy and help us reach climate targets. Reeves is keen to ensure we take the opportunities ourselves now, so in 10 years we’re not relying on imports and other countries.
It was fantastic to see so many discussions on democracy, social mobility and green plans for the future! (And we managed to get a coffee with our logo printed on it, thanks Renewables UK!)