Conference Season Roundup - 2021

The last few weeks has seen politicians, journalists, activists and more gathering for the post-Covid return of party conferences. The JLC were in attendance at both the Conservatives and Labour to follow the key developments and interact with key politicians and policy influencers to amplify and magnify the work of our members.

Conservative Party

This week the Conservative Party were in Manchester for their first in-person conference since they secured an 80-seat majority in the 2019 election. Despite the context of fuel shortages, the mood was relatively upbeat among those in attendance. The Prime Minister concluded the conference with an upbeat speech which, while light on policy announcements, was received well by the party members in attendance.

The JLC were keen to ensure that the Government were able to interact with the local community while in Manchester and one morning facilitated a visit by Work and Pensions Minister Guy Opperman to the The Fed where he met with Jewel and the Friendship Circle.

The Conservative Friends of Israel reception was once again one of the most popular events of the entire conference with a long queue already formed 30 minutes before it was due to begin. Cabinet ministers including Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, Health Secretary Sajid Javid and Party Chairman Oliver Dowden were greeted with loud cheers as they spoke about strengthening the UK-Israel relationship.

CST and the Antisemitism Policy Trust were on a panel organised by Conservative Home with former Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick. The discussion included the community’s support for the upcoming legislation on online harms and the possible implications of the Higher Education Freedom of Speech Bill.

Labour Party

Last week saw Labour in Brighton where delegates voted through the rule changes mandated by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission following the antisemitism crisis in the Party. Our Co-CEO was at the conference and wrote in the Jewish Chronicle that while some issues remain – such as the efforts of a minority of delegates to oppose these new rules – the progress is good for Jews and democracy in general.

Following the vote, the Jewish Labour movement held a well-attended rally with speakers including London Mayor Sadiq Khan, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar, Margaret Hodge, Ruth Smeeth and Camden Council leader Georgia Gould. The Conference also saw former Labour MP Louise Ellman announce her return to the Party in a sign of support for Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer’s efforts to fight antisemitism.

Starmer used the conference to push through rule changes which he believes will help secure the future of Labour in the coming years. He used his speech on the final day to explain his background and why he became leader of the Labour Party. His speech was regularly interrupted by heckles from far-left members of his Party but he appeared to be prepared for this and responded, “chanting slogans or changing lives”.

While in Brighton, we were joined by the Shadow Culture Secretary, Jo Stevens, for a tour of the new Brighton community hub which is currently under construction as well as the local Middle Street Synagogue.

Unfortunately, the conference saw the passing of a one-sided and problematic anti-Israel motion. However, in a sign of the change in leadership in the Party, the motion was immediately rejected by Lisa Nandy, the Shadow Foreign Secretary.

Labour Friends of Israel finished off the conference by bringing back their reception. The event saw a full crowd addressed by Lisa Nandy and a video message from Starmer. The impressive turnout from senior party members is seen as yet another sign of the improvement in the Party following the issues of the previous leadership.

Liberal Democrats

Conference season was kicked off by the Liberal Democrats holding an online conference for a second year in a row. The party passed a comprehensive motion on Israel which clearly attempted to be even-handed. The motion will see the Party support the International Peace Fund, further normalisation deals with Israel and increased trade. It also condemned the Palestinian Authority and Hamas for their violations of human rights. Less positive was the inclusion of a boycott policy which was added into the motion via an amendment. The Party’s Foreign Affairs Spokesperson wrote about why she does not consider this policy to be BDS.

Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel hosted the Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister for their annual fringe event. The group has been working hard to foster ties between the Party and their Israeli counterpart, Yesh Atid.