I’d be the first to be skeptical of a politician invoking Maya Angelou’s poetry in a speech. But Dawn Butler absolutely pulled off her reading of ‘Phenomenal Woman’ at the London Labour Women’s conference last weekend. Whether the participants, including myself and our chair Sarah Armstrong, pulled off the call and answer refrain of the poem’s title I’m less certain, but the point of empowerment and fun was made!

Dawn, the shadow Equalities Minister, was incredibly refreshing. A politician who chose not to make a speech!! One who apologised ‘in advance’ to all the first time attenders of a Labour meeting (of which there were many) for CLP meetings, but advised them to ‘stick with it’. One who admitted she ‘hates talking about Brexit almost as much as I hate Brexit’. And one, when challenged about having a crowd of controversial advisers, simply started with ‘I wish! I’ve just got one and all she does is moan about being over-worked, though she’s right to be fair’.

Although she was simply took questions from the diverse group of women, Dawn’s message came across loud and clear: Labour are ready to form a government. We have the people and the policies to do it. She gave the example of the gender pay gap  – the Tories have implemented our idea of paygap reporting but missed the vital ‘teeth’ in our policy to refuse public sector contracts to firms who don’t take action to close it. Personally, she made no bones about looking forward to being the first Cabinet Minister for Equalities, when (not ‘if’) the ‘Shadow’ in her job title disappears.

Her other message and that of the whole conference was also clear – women, especially BAME women, should go to their local meetings, speak up, take posts and put themselves forward for office.

Although the quality of our shadow Cabinet shone out, the rest of the conference was also excellent.

The workshop on public speaking had a leading adviser, who has worked with several Labour politicians and other high profile people, giving her top tips. Many of which were actionably specific, though I fear her main plea ‘don’t be boring!’ can be a tall order!

The digital workshop was super practical – as branch digital/social media officer I’ve come away with a ‘to do’ list (there’s a Labour wordpress template, who knew!? A new look coming here soon!).

The BAME Faces Matter workshop shared a number of new initiatives coming under Labour’s Democracy Review, including a Bernie Grant leadership programme for BAME activists and a toolkit of ideas for CLP BAME Officers.

Labour’s commitment to a Community Organising approach was exemplified in the Community Organising: Power and Negotiation workshop, which ran a training taster demonstrating the influence relational power exerted by a strong group of residents and activists can have.

The final panel session was also cheering. Which it needed to be as it was held in an exceptionally cold church. (Members of the local party shuddered as they reminisced about a fundraiser held there years ago where Neil Kinnock spoke at great length while they all froze!). Thankfully the panel kept it brief and interesting. They shared the passions that had brought them into politics (mostly to their own surprise in some cases) and answered questions on topics covering female leadership in the party, childcare at CLP meetings and pay gap disputes.

This was apparently the first event of its kind for a decade, which is testament to Maggie, the London Women’s Officer. Apparently over half of London Labour members are female, but there is apparently some way to go to making half of London Labour’s CLP posts female and especially Chairs.

So ladies, put yourself forward and encourage others to – whether that’s coming along to a first meeting. The Jo Cox Leadership programme (women) and Bernie Grant (BAME) leadership scheme are currently (or soon will be) open for a new round of applicants too.  As Maggie pointed out, Dawn Butler put her hand up at her first meeting at one point. You never know where it will lead…

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