Glenis Willmott MEP’s Labour Party Conference Diary
Writing exclusively for Endeavour Public Affairs Glenis Willmott MEP reports back from this week’s Labour Party Conference in Manchester.
Glenis Willmott is a Labour Party MEP representing the East Midlands of England; she is also the leader of the UK Labour Party group of MEPs in the European Parliament.
As a previous Labour Prime Minister once said, a week is a long time in politics. Before getting to Conference, our UK news has been full of questions about Ed Miliband’s leadership, and British apathy and antipathy to the EU. Well, in just seven days, many many more Brits finally ‘got’ both Ed’s personality and his Prime Minister potential, and also throughout this Conference, there was an amazingly positive reception for the EU everywhere I went.
Saturday 29 September
Kicked off the week with a packed Labour Women’s Conference. It’s a great chance to say hi to old friends in a wonderful atmosphere. It’s the first chance I get to promote Europe. We want to have a quota of women on Boards across the EU. Why at a European level? Because large companies say it would put them at a competitive disadvantage if a national government ‘imposed’ a quota on just one country, but if every large company in Europe has the same rules, it would then work well. It already works well in Scandinavia. Ideally, large companies across the EU would have women on their boards in large numbers by now, but after years and years of failed persuasion, it seems legislation is the best way forward now.
Sunday 30 September
Conference Centre filling up today and in the evening the EPLP (my lot – the “European Parliamentary Labour Party”) have a great fringe meeting on Europe. We had Kevin Maguire, the Daily Mirror’s politics person, to chair it using his journalism skills to stop speakers falling into jargon, and a panel of leading Labour Europeans. Relieved when my first speech of the week went down well but more importantly, the meeting was full. Europe is cool for the first time in years.
Came back to the hotel and there was another great victory for Europe – we won the Ryder cup! When will sceptics realise that some things are better done at a Europe level (such as golf, the environment, trade negotiations) and some are best done at a national level (Olympic teams, education, taxation and whether you serve beer in pints or litres)? I decide to begin tomorrow’s Conference speech with a quip about the Ryder cup.
Monday 01 October
In my EPLP Leader Speech to Conference, I launched our campaign to get the EU to invest it’s underspend in pan-European schemes to help unemployed youth.
I managed to get another speech in from the floor later on about minimum rights for workers. As a proud former trade union officer, I’m really pleased to get cheered by our Conference Delegates when I say that when David Cameron talks about ‘repatriating rights’ from Brussels what he really means is taking away the basic rights British workers get as a result of the EU.
Day finished well with a packed EPLP meeting where over 900 people listened to Ed Miliband praise the EPLP’s work on Europe. We fully support EU co-operation but we fight against waste wherever we see it, whether it is a totally unnecessary parliament building in Strasbourg, or subsidising tobacco farmer. Socialist Group Leader, Hannes Swoboda MEP, has come over from Brussels. He ‘gets’ where the Brits are coming from and his speech received a roar of applause. The evening is rounded off by Eddie Izzard getting a good laugh with an unashamed pro-European rallying call. No “euro-apathy” here. I really hope Eddie stays in European Labour politics. We have created our own Obama-style rally, and it’s all about Europe. Fantastic!
Tuesday 02 October
Chaired a breakfast with Douglas Alexander MP, our hugely supportive Shadow Foreign Secretary, and Hannes Swoboda. Once again, Hannes has got the tone just right.
My Conference highlight was cheering in a packed Conference Hall as Ed Miliband made it clear we are the One Nation party. Of course he affirms his support for Europe and internationalism but what I liked was the way the speech came from his heart – without any notes. I voted for him and I supported him as our Leader from the start. I feel convinced I am looking at a future Prime Minister of our country. He’s more than just a bright guy, he is a passionate Leader. I feel tremendously proud as one small part of a completely united cheering party in the massive hall. I don’t remember standing ovations during a Leader’s speech before.
Later on, Business for New Europe holds a packed fringe meeting. I debate “Europe In/Out” with veteran anti-Europe MP Austin Mitchell and others. Austin’s arguments don’t seem to have changed since the 1975 referendum when he campaigned against British common market membership. I’m over the moon when an amazing 97 per cent of people there voted to stay in the EU, while just three per cent want the UK to pull out. In a separate vote, 74 per cent vote not to have an “in-out” referendum. This referendum issue could be just a “Westminster village” obsession.
Wednesday 03 October
No major meetings today, so I can catch up with activists. There are lots of very able people who want to be Labour candidates at the next European Elections which is wonderful. Our NEC is sad to lose my MEP colleague Michael Cashman as its chair. Though he is rightly known as a national champion of rights for lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transsexual rights, I know him as a trusted and wise colleague whose advice is respected by all his fellow MEPs. As a former trade union officer, I am pleased to meet up with colleagues from Unite and my own union, the GMB, to discuss upcoming EU legislation.
We have never persuaded people how the work of an MEP affects everyone’s daily lives, from the air we breathe to the water we drink. It is about mastering nitty gritty details and then negotiating compromises. Health legislation is one of my areas in the European Parliament. It is an area of interest as before my political career, I was an NHS lab scientist in Mansfield. I meet the Breast Cancer Care charity and we discuss drugs that can be used a preventive for target groups.
Thursday 04 October
Leave Conference for the East Midlands, exhausted but full of joy at the thought of getting Ed into Number Ten – and the prospect of ever greater numbers of Labour activists getting those really able new candidates into the European Parliament in 2014.