My Experience of Party Conference
By Jake Shepherd
WITH party conference season all packed up for another year, I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on my first ever experience of a political party conference, and try to persuade other young people to act on their beliefs, and put themselves forward to represent others at major political events – like party conferences.
Before I go on to talk about my motivation to attend party conference, and how you might go about getting more involved with a political party — there are quite a few people that I want to thank (bear with me). Firstly, thank you to all the members, young and more seasoned, who voted for me to represent our local party at conference this year. I’d also like to thank our local party chair Charlie Cochrane as well as Laura McAlpine, for encouraging the idea of sending a youth delegate, and to Cllr Jon Clempner for helping me find my feet at conference those first few days. Last but not least, thank you to my fellow delegate Cllr Lanie Shears for making conference as enjoyable and memorable as it was, you’re an inspiration!
If you hadn’t guessed from the list of people I want to thank, this year I was given the honour of attending the Labour Party Annual Conference in Brighton – BUT I am writing for a much wider audience. No matter what your political beliefs, I’d encourage everyone, especially young people, to make the most of every opportunity to have your opinions heard. For some, that might not mean joining a political party or attending a political party conference. However, I can’t overstate how important it is (in my opinion) that everyone makes use of their vote – even if you spoil your ballot.
You may not like political parties, or agree with what they do – but what my local party has done for me, and other young people around Harlow, should persuade you that political parties are a force for good in our town. It was after all, my local party which voted for me (and Cllr Lanie Shears) to represent us at Labour Party Conference. For me, my motives to go to party conference laid within our local community. I wanted to prove there is nothing stopping you from being able to have your voice heard at a national political event (photo credited to Roger O’Doherty).
Speaking at the Labour Party Conference might not be your cup of tea, but I decided to speak and paid tribute to the members from our town – who give so much and campaign tirelessly all year round. We’re a party that is shaped, informed and built by our members, we have been for over 100 years, and I hope that you’ll decide to start playing a part by joining Harlow Labour Party.
If you’re asking yourself what politics has ever done for you, then I am afraid to say, that politics is something that is more likely being done to you. Virtually every aspect of our lives is subject to political decisions, whether that’s how much you get paid at work, the price of your weekly shop and even where you can park your car (if you have one). Therefore, it is not good enough to sit back and “leave it to the politicians”, because we all have the ability to change the way things are. We are all politicians. Things don’t have to remain the same, but things will likely stay unchanged for the most part, unless more people act and make their voices heard.
My personal highlight of this year’s party conference, was the final day before I came back home. I received a message inviting me to speak to a local group of 13-16 year olds in Brighton the same evening that conference packed up for another year. Similar to the groups of young people I’ve spoken with at home, everyone seemed to be aware that something political was happening just down the road, but no one felt that it was particularly earth-breaking or that it was something they could get involved in.
We had conversations I didn’t foresee, ranging from: the things they didn’t like about school, exam stress and support for young people’s mental health – even whether they felt they’d be good at public speaking. What was important to me was that these bright and enthusiastic young people felt they could do something about it – the answer was clear to me, but to them there didn’t seem to be anything they could do to change all that. After their next weekly meeting, I received a message from the leader of their youth group saying that they all enjoyed (what for many was their first time) talking publicly about something they cared about, and that many wanted to do something similar at school.
So change might not have arrived after a week; but getting young people to speak out about the things that matter to them, and giving them confidence to try something new (maybe even political) – is certainly the catalyst for change. The good news for us back at home is that even though party conference is over, it doesn’t end there. Politics certainly doesn’t start and stop at election time, in fact it has outlived everyone and everything. To be certain – politics isn’t going away anytime soon.
My one hope is that by the time that party conference season comes around again next year, there will be more people from Harlow representing political parties at these major political events. Specifically, I want to see Harlow Young Labour nominate Harlow’s first ever female youth delegate, alongside a larger Labour delegation from our town.
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