The speech I planned to give at Labour Party ConferenceSeptember 28th, 2016
Rachel Burgin, Socialist Societies delegate for Labour Business, speaking in support of the NEC’s provisions to tackle abuse within our party.
I am the fifth generation of my family to be involved in Labour and trade union politics. This is the first occasion that any of us have spoken at Labour Party Conference. We’ve been hiding our light under a bushel for the best part of the last century. But I owe it to them and their memory to speak out right here, right now at this Conference and on this issue.
Because everything I understand about socialism I learnt from them and from the Labour communities that they have lived in since the days of Keir Hardie. Their socialism was built on fixed set of values – a code of conduct – that all were expected to abide by – and wo betide anyone who didn’t!
These values came to international media attention in the wake of Cumbrian Shootings which saw a gunman go on the loose to murder 12 people, and terrorise many more. Explaining how local communities had come together in the wake of this tragedy, the journalist Tony Parsons described West Cumbria’s communities as a “haven of decency that will remain unbroken“. He went on to say that “While we hear so much about the ugly face of the modern world, we forget that there is a Britain that is emphatically unbroken. And where all those old virtues-decency, tolerance, kindness, innocence and goodness-still prevail and thrive.”
These values saw local people pull rank and refuse to assist chequebook journalists who preyed on grieving relatives for salacious stories in return for vast sums of money. The international media looked on bemused with the depth of community solidarity that they simply could not penetrate.
These values also helped us drive out the BNP who had been terrorising our communities with their poison pen letters, bullying and intimidation. It was Labour values that helped us make the case that the politics of hatred had no place in West Cumbria. It was with a message of hope that we were able to defeat a message of despair. It was with the concrete achievements of Labour governments – new schools and hospitals and a local economic strategy that promised 1,000s of new, skilled and well paid jobs that enabled people to put their faith in us as the party to deliver for them and their families. We were building a new West Cumbria and our best days were ahead of us.
So, this motion is not about silencing people from articulating Labour values: this motion IS Labour values.
Neither is this speech intended to give voice to the Establishment – whoever they are. But rather to the countless voices of ordinary working people who have echoed through the ages and call us back to common decency, and to our true purpose of representing them and their interests in parliament.
The people of West Cumbria taught me that my great ideas, my radical politics and my willingness to throw myself wholeheartedly into absolutely everything meant nothing if I couldn’t be nice to people. Common decency puts us all in our place.
A few weeks after the Cumbria Shootings, I wrote these words:
These values: community cohesion, social justice, compassion, common decency, solidarity – are very precious. They are worth protecting, fighting for and dedicating a life of service to. They are values that the Labour Party ought to be rooted in and they are values that challenge the lie that the Conservative Party are somehow the guardians of moral virtue.
But, Conference, if we are to be the party defined by these values then we need to behave like it! They need to define every branch and CLP meeting, every interaction both publicly and privately with MPs, councillors and fellow members. When I joined the Copeland Labour party, I was welcomed with open arms. I was valued, cherished and treated like family. That should be every member’s experience. But we must act to deliver it.