A view from Labour Party Conference

Flat. That was the most used word at Labour Party conference. Flat became the chosen adjective for the overall atmosphere at conference. The week lacked the energy and drive you would expect from a party ahead in the polls a year before a General Election. This may have been just a post-independence referendum come-down or could suggest more systemic problems for the party leadership heading into the election campaign.

Shadow Civil Society

With Labour’s consultation on the voluntary sector only recently ended, there were no big policy announcements at conference. However, Shadow Minister Lisa Nandy spoke at no fewer than thirteen events, ranging from social investment to the potential for a Lib-Lab coalition. Her speeches give an indication of the direction Labour might take on policy.

A key message was that the state cannot step back from civil society entirely, but must intervene in disadvantaged communities that need extra support and currently lack capacity.

Procurement reform, although not a doorstep issue, was another policy area that repeatedly came up. It was suggested that the Social Value Act and the Compact need ‘teeth’ and commissioners need better training in these areas.

The importance of charities speaking out was another often mentioned point, and was even referenced in the leader’s speech. Labour has already committed to repeal and replace the Lobbying Act should they be in power in 2015.

Keep up the good work

One of the best parts of party conference is catching up with some of our members and seeing the great policy and campaigns work they do. There were lots of brilliant examples I could mention, but one in particular stood out for me.

Action for Children and Barnardo’s worked together on a very imaginative fringe event addressing support for care leavers. Fringe events usually follow the same format: a panel discussion followed by audience questions. This one was an interactive workshop, with small groups chaired by parliamentary candidates and other key stakeholders. Each table had discussion activities to work through, which encouraged us to think about some of the challenges facing care leavers. Sealed envelopes contained the answers given by looked-after children to the same questions we were posed. Only once ideas and comments had been fed back did the shadow minister make his speech.

The format made the event stand out from the crowd and allowed for participation from a greater number of people. It also enabled a much more detailed level of discussion to take place, rather than set piece speeches or stock comments.

Stay connected

We have put together a guide to party conferences for the voluntary sector. It includes tips for getting the most out of your time and recommended fringe events. The report is free to download for members.

NCVO are attending all three conferences. Follow @Charlotte_NCVO, @karlwilding and @ncvoaidan for more. If you are attending conference or running a stand or event, we would love to hear from you.

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Charlotte was our senior external relations officer and public affairs consultant. She has left NCVO

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