A fairer, greener future? Thoughts from the Labour Party Conference
This year, the Labour Party Conference returned to Liverpool.
It gave us an ideal opportunity to do a bit of "networking" and to attend a number of relevant panels and debates taking place as part of the conference's fringe events programme.
The relevance of this, of course, is that Liverpool remains a Labour stronghold and, through our campaigning, we engage with Labour Councillors, Labour MPs and a Labour Metro Mayor. (In the interests of balance and transparency, we would - and have - engaged with every major political party over the past 5 years...).
With the current political turmoil, it's vitally important that we 'play the long game' and try to engage with anyone and everyone who may find themselves in a position of power and be able to help our cause (and others like us) in the future.
At the time of the last general election, Labour's Green New Deal formed a core part of its manifesto and we would have found it surprising if they had gone ahead with such a planet-wrecking road, should they have come to power.
We also believe we'd done the groundwork needed to ensure that the road proposal and access to the Port of Liverpool was high up on the party leadership's agenda.
Our own Bootle MP, Peter Dowd, and Norwich South MP, Clive Lews, each held positions in the Shadow Treasury team and were re-examining what is known as 'the green book' which determines how public money is spent.
They'd concluded that the road proposal didn't represent good value for money and that the north deserved far greater expenditure per capita on big infrastructure projects like this.
On top of that, then party Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, was aware of this work, our campaign and we'd had direct contact with him on the issue.
It's therefore extremely important that we make similar progress with the new leadership team.
Top of our list is Louise Haigh MP, Shadow Transport Secretary, and someone we hope and believe would fight our corner. This is based on how active she is as an MP over in Sheffield, regularly championing her own constituents' causes.
Our team were up and out early doors on the Sunday handing out leaflets and stickers to delegates on their way into conference.
We discovered that there was LOTS of competition for people's attention (the number of wasted flyers doesn't bear thinking about!!) but this was still a really worthwhile effort, as it brought the campaign and the issues around it to the attention of lots of people we wouldn't otherwise have met.
Inside the conference itself (or rather, the security compound which encompassed the Liverpool ACC), you'd be forgiven for thinking that you'd strolled onto the set of The Thick of It. Lots of high-profile MPs, with coffee-carrying advisors in tow and plenty of expensive suits.
After taking a quick look around, we attended our first fringe event: How can Labour Deliver Better Transport? It was hosted by the RMT and featured 'man of the moment', Mick Lynch, on the panel. Louise Haigh was scheduled to take part, but was replaced by Tan Dhesi, Shadow Minister for Rail, with the final panellist the hugely impressive Dr Miatta Fahnbulleh of the New Economics Foundation.
It was a fascinating session. Questions led to discussions around the possibilities of rail to take HGVs off our roads, tackling congestion AND addressing environmental issues, if it were under public ownership. More on that later.
We managed to speak with Tan Dhesi after the event and highlighted our campaign and the lack of adequate rail infrastructure at the Port of Liverpool. He agreed to take a look and we took an action to follow this up.
We then popped into another session Louise Haigh was due to be at, but again, no joy. We were beginning to get a little disheartened, so headed back over to the main conference arena.
Thankfully, the moons aligned, and we bumped into Louise (metaphorically) outside the conference hall. We grabbed the chance to raise the issue of port access with her and to highlight some of the key issues around our campaign.
We're always extremely conscious to avoid coming across as hyper-local "NIMBYs" (as much as we hate that term) and try to link things back to national transport policy issues.
She listened and told us that Peter Dowd had raised the topic with her, which was encouraging to hear, and we made another note to follow this up.
With that mini result, we left the main conference and headed over to The Black-E on Great George Street to call in on The World Transformed - a celebration of left-wing politics and creativity which runs in parallel to the main Labour Party conference. It places an emphasis on socialism and collaboration, so we were delighted to be invited to take part in their panel and Q&A titled "Liverpool on the Climate Frontline".
Kate from our team did an amazing job of communicating what we're all about, what the big issues are and how this all ties back to the climate crisis.
She was joined by fellow campaigners from Youth Strike for Climate, Save Oglet Shore, Hy-not and Merseyside Black Lives Matter Alliance. We urge you to check them out and get behind their work, too!
All in all, not a bad first day!
We returned the conference for the following two days.
On Monday, Louise Haigh's keynote speech announced that Labour would renationalise the railways, should they return to power.
The significance of this is the opportunities it would open up for rail freight.
Before his untimely demise, Grant Shapps reneged on a promise to implement the Integrated Rail Plan for the North, in full. Instead, his scaled back, 'cheap and nasty' alternative proposal was called out by Steve Rotheram, which you can read about here.
Should the plan be delivered in full, it would mean that vital, additional capacity for freight to move in and out of the Port of Liverpool would be delivered.
This won't happen under the current government.
Surely then, a Labour Transport Secretary would work collaboratively with our Metro Mayor to revisit and reverse this decision and ensure that the Liverpool City Region secured the rail investment it deserves?
We certainly hope so.
On Tuesday, we went along to a session on "Fixing Urban Transport" which featured the political double act that is our own Steve Rotheram and his counterpart Andy Burnham, Metro Mayor for Greater Manchester.
It was great to see these two in action, playing up to the rivalry and it was extremely encouraging to hear how much they're doing to improve active travel and public transport in their respective city regions. There's a shared vision and passion for delivering genuine levelling up to these two, historic northern cities, with London-style transport systems for each.
We took the opportunity to update Steve Rotheram on the work we've been doing, including the Westminster Hall debate, and raised our recent letter to him. We hope to hear back on this soon.
It's also worth noting that on Tuesday morning, protestors interrupted a fringe event titled Reaching Net Zero: How can the UK boost energy security and invest in green jobs.
Seemingly with absolutely no hint of irony, this was sponsored by our old friends Drax.
These are the folks who chop down healthy trees in North America, poison surrounding communities through the manufacture of wooden pellets, then ship them to the UK via, you've guessed it, the Port of Liverpool, where they're subsequently transferred by rail to Yorkshire to be burned... occupying a vital East-West rail line in the process, which could and should be used to take HGVs off our roads.
In other words, a horrific process that is exactly how NOT to reach net zero, no matter how much creative 'green accounting' takes place.
Thankfully, rather than achieving their objective of schmoozing politicians, it would appear that their sponsorship of this event may have backfired as it coincided with this BBC documentary which aired the night before.
In addition, we've followed up with our own Sefton Central MP, Bill Esterson, who was in attendance but was, up to that point, unaware of the environmental destruction this practice causes.
He is now, and we and other campaign groups are working with him to bring this to the attention of Shadow Energy Minister, Alan Whitehead MP.
The rest of conference was spent dipping in and out of various environmental and transport events, trying to spot anyone who could help our cause and trying even harder to snaffle as much free buffet food as possible, with mixed results.
We've since written to Louise Haigh and cc'd our local and regional politicians, along with Tan Dhesi and other members of the Shadow Cabinet as it was important to follow up on the discussions we had had.
We not only spelt out the issues we are facing, but also the opportunities that exist for a Labour government to do things differently.
We hope the hard work pays off and, as ever, will keep you posted on any developments.