Why I'm joining the Lords

I've been going to Party conferences continuously for 13 years. But this year my experience has been special. 

On the upside, I no longer have to attend them all. Notoriously, too many journalists and politicians wind themselves up, away from home, over too many days and nights with controversy as the principle currency.

On the upside too, I have attended my first Labour Conference as a member rather than an 'influencer' or commentator. I loved my human rights campaigning. Hard though it often was, I enjoyed my dream job for many years. It brought the privileges and opportunities of cross-party non-party alliances in defence of fundamental rights and freedoms that all democrats who believe in anything ought to value.

That non-partisan work continues, not least in the second legislative chamber where politics is often less tribal. That work is as important as ever in the face of Brexit and continued threats to our Human Rights Act.

And the biggest positive of all has been witnessing the changing nature of this gathering. Once the apparent preserve of people in suits, like me, this year there seem to be so many more diverse members of different ages, regions and backgrounds. This greater democratic membership is not the threat that some pundits suggest. It is the most exciting opportunity to rebuild the relationship between people and politics, and long-standing members have been attending and even speaking to a hearty welcome for the first time.

The risks of this moment are not to be downplayed. Whilst Jeremy Corbyn's acceptance speech was the clearest call for unity and wiping the slate clean, and many of his former critics have responded in kind, greater unity does not make for the best headlines.

The Labour Party family, as Jeremy rightly describes it, needs to move from family drama to principled opposition and alternative government. There is no point grumbling about a biased news media that has always given the British right an easier ride. If we inevitably always have to work harder to be our better selves, it is worth doing in the cause of returning the governance of the country to those who have been left behind for far too many years.

And amidst all the drama, I witnessed reasons to be hopeful.

The women's conference on Saturday was a joy with an atmosphere so warm that, but for the statistics on the Leader's even stronger mandate amongst women members, you could not have guessed who voted how. Kezia Dugdale made a rousing speech about "deeds not words". Yesterday Emily Thornberry spoke to her Foreign Affairs brief. What an internationalist contrast to the nationalism and xenophobia of so much Conservative rhetoric and policy of recent times. And this morning Diane Abbott defended our NHS, a national treasure built and preserved by generations of newcomers to the United Kingdom.

The potential is all here but there is no more time to waste. I know which side of history I want to be on. It's no secret or surprise that my heart lies to the Left or that I have been offered political roles by leaders of more than one party many times before.

The difference this time is Britons going to food banks and desperate refugees being left to drown in the Mediterranean Sea.

The difference is also the values of this leadership and Labour Party, and the once in a generation chance of making much needed change.

 

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