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Coronavirus: Labour conference ‘with a difference’ to welcome twice as many as normal annual event | Politics News

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Labour is this weekend staging a party conference with a difference.

There will be no overcrowded trains to the seaside or big city, no warm white wine receptions or heaving hotel bars in the early hours – instead, an online event with speeches by video link.

Because of coronavirus, the party is holding Labour Connected, a four-day digital get-together for party activists, unions and political geeks.

Labour is staging a virtual party conference this weekend
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Sir Keir Starmer will make his big keynote speech on Tuesday

There will, however, be speeches from Labour’s top team, including leader Sir Keir Starmer, deputy Angela Rayner, shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds and shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds.

“We will not have anyone physically there and therefore it will all be done virtually,” said Sir Keir, who will say a few words at the start and make his big keynote speech on Tuesday morning.

“So this is a feature of my leadership of the Labour Party. I am yet to make a speech to an audience, because of the restrictions that are in place. I hope it will be different by next year.”

Former prime minister Gordon Brown will be on an international panel on Tuesday including shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy, German Finance Minister Olaf Schultz, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady and – by video link – New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Labour says currently more than twice as many people have signed up for Labour Connected than would be able to participate at a normal annual conference in Brighton, Manchester or Liverpool.

Just like a traditional conference, there will be 24 training sessions, 10 policy panels with breakout sessions, two rallies, “member mobilisation events” and – always popular – a quiz, though obviously not in a pub.

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown
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Former PM Gordon Brown will be among those at the virtual event

The first rally, The Road to May 2021 Elections, will be addressed by several local government leaders, including London mayor Sadiq Khan.

The second, a Keyworkers Rally, will feature Labour’s health team of Jonathan Ashworth and Rosena Allin-Khan.

More than 100 speakers, activists and trade union delegates will be taking part in the main sessions. And it would not be a party conference without fringe meetings and a commercial exhibition area, so there will be 100 fringes, a virtual expo and a daily business forum.

Ahead of the online event, Labour’s deputy leader – who speaks on Sunday – says the party is offering the country the new leadership it needs at this time of national crisis.

“Over the next four days, the Labour Party will show what we can achieve with a new leadership for our party and for our country,” said Ms Rayner.

Labour's deputy leader Angela Rayner will speak on Sunday
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Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner will speak on Sunday

“We will act in the best interests of the British people, and in our shared mission to defeat this terrible virus.

“And we will call this failing Conservative government out for its serial incompetence that is holding Britain back.

“We know that we have a mountain to climb to win the next election, but we are determined to climb it. We must – and we will – restore the British people’s trust in Labour as a party of government.”

Paying tribute to key workers during the pandemic, Ms Rayner added: “This crisis showed us that the people our economy and our country cannot survive without, are our key workers.

“The NHS and social care staff who’ve put their lives on the line to save others. The posties, the bus drivers, the shop workers, the delivery drivers and so many others who have kept us all cared for, fed and connected.

“Your service, your sacrifice and your bravery will never be forgotten. Our whole country owes you an enormous debt of gratitude.

“After all the sacrifice and hardship, we can’t go back to business as usual”.

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She added: “The coronavirus crisis has changed everything for all of us, for our country and for our party. But our values haven’t changed.

“And it is those values of fairness, compassion, that are seeing our country through this crisis.

“These are our values, Labour values, and they must be the foundation of our country’s recovery.

“Out of this crisis, we can build a better, fairer, more equal society”.

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