Why did we develop the speaker series?
Our exciting Newbury CLP Speaker Series was driven by our shared commitment to vibrant political education. Sadly it was abruptly curtailed by the coronavirus pandemic.
We had some excellent speakers lined up, including a policy session with Laura Parker and James Meadway. We are thinking of creative ways to overcome the hurdles and bring you those events – watch this space!
Many members will recall that we’ve had great speakers visiting All Members’ Meetings, such as the inspiring Gyanraj Rai in 2016. But creating dedicated speaker events was a new and somewhat daunting project. The speaker series was the brain child of Jonny Roberts who became our CLP Political Education Officer in July, then Chair in October, 2019. It gained momentum when our new Executive was formed and included our excellent new Political Education Officer, Sam Dawkins.
We think every CLP should have a Political Education Officer. Many thanks to them both, and to members Bob Chapman for all things musical and acoustic, and to Neale Hall for amazing graphics.
My friend Gyanraj Rai spoke to CLP members about the Gurkha veterans campaign to gain pension equality with their British and Commonwealth equivalent ex-forces members Gary Puffett, Vice Chair and Trade Union Liaison Officer, Newbury CLP
We wanted to engage with new voices and perspectives, outside as well as inside the party, and we wanted to challenge our thinking. Except for our Campaign Curry, when space was limited, we made all events open to the public. Feedback has been incredibly positive, raising the profile of the party and contributing to civic life in Newbury and West Berkshire.
Our first and probably most nervewracking event took place on 30 July 2019. A packed house welcomed Andrew Adonis . Brexit was still a hot topic. Debate was frank and honest, punctuated by much laughter despite the seriousness of the topic. Andrew is a very blunt speaker! The Newbury Weekly News covered the event. Our experiment of charging non-Labour members £3 at the door, and making the event free to members, not only covered venue costs but raised funds for the CLP, thanks to immense generosity.
Thank you to Newbury Labour for organising such a brilliant local event, much appreciated! Feedback from non-Labour member
Our second event was on 3 October 2019, when Steve Howell visited us. Steve pretty much sold out copies of his pacey insightful account of working at the heart of the 2017 General Election, Game Changer: Eight weeks that changed British Politics. One of the things we learned that night was that Steve’s best friend at school and for many years was Peter Mandelson. This fascinating podcast shows each reflecting on their friendship, their growing commitment to politics, and the very different directions their political careers took.
The evening was inspiring, setting us all up well for the much-anticipated election campaign. Steve talked of high level strategy yet made it personal, and deeply relevant to a roomful of campaigners. We were to reflect on Steve’s words in the weeks to come; that contrary to received wisdom, campaigning can change minds, that up-to-date accurate data is vital, and that only doorknocking and speaking to people offers the insights vital to campaign decision making. See our campaign blog for more about what was to follow just over a month later.
We were delighted to welcome Grace Blakeley just a few days later, on 9 October 2019, for our third event. Grace was recovering from a cold and unfortunately our venue was a little chilly, so we remain incredibly grateful to Grace for battling the elements to present the most inspiring of ideas. In Stolen: How to Save the World from Financialisation, Grace debated with us alternatives to the taken-for-granted notion that personal debt is inevitable, including aspects of our lives previously provided for by the state such as education and health, and is a lifelong burden that just has to be skilfully managed. While the odds are stacked against the left, Grace asserts that what follows is dependent on whether the few continue to profit at the expense of the many. We are currently in one of those moments of crisis that present opportunities for those so minded to exploit others’ distress for financial gain.
A great moment was when an audience member thanked Grace and the CLP, saying he’d remembered that evening why he really needed to re-join the Labour Party. We all clapped and whooped.
In the New Year, on 27 January 2020, we welcomed Maya Goodfellow for our fourth event. We had a wonderful new venue – we really appreciate all our venues – and a full house for a really great presentation and lively discussion.
Once again, a mixed audience discussed the painful facts of how immigrants are treated, in UK society, and in policy and law. Maya’s careful research showed Theresa May’s hostile environment was not so new, illuminating the racist and dehumanising effect of policies over decades. Maya’s book Hostile Environment: How Immigrants became Scapegoats sold like hot cakes.
Questions flowed, we could have talked with Maya all night. We really need space and time for this shared political learning and policy interrogation Mark Beach, Co-campaign Coordinator, Newbury CLP
Maya’s visit was timely and inspiring. Several of us who attended the Labour Party conference in September 2019 had campaigned for Composite 20: Immigration. Jonny spoke brilliantly from the podium – watch his speech here.
Campaign Curry with Stephen Bush
This was an absolutely fantastic evening Sam James, Vice Chair, South Swindon CLP
Our friend Sam said: “Stephen Bush has an encyclopedic knowledge of British politics, which frankly borders on the frightening! With his keen journalistic finger, firmly on the pulse of contemporary Westminster, and with his unassuming and friendly manner he is the ideal guest for a left of centre political curry night”.
Stephen was incredibly generous with his time, anecdotes and political insights. His closing talk – humourously summarising the mind-boggling problems faced by our rival political parties – was balm to our still-hurting political souls!
Curry evenings have been a regular event for some time now, and this time together was just what we needed: laughter, really good food, excellent political debate, time to meet new members, and much-needed catch ups with returning and long-standing members. We experienced a real sense of re-grouping as a political party with a future.
How can we continue our political work in the new circumstances?
We were on a roll and feel really gutted at having to cancel planned events. So we are planning a series of Zoom events. The first will be an informal get together to share local experiences of Covid19 and its effects on our communities. We will circulate a date shortly, and will of course welcome all sorts of input from those who’d rather not join in online.
And as Labour has now published its eight new Policy Commissions we will be organising a series of meetings to consult on each. We would welcome your ideas and help, so please contact us – we’d love to talk!
Many thanks to everyone who has supported our events, and encouraged us along the way.