The virgin delegate

What the Labour women were getting up to and why some of them were on cloud nine after being 'follet

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My name is Val Price, and with my husband Fred, we have been members of the Labour Party since 1964. We joined in Slough when Fenner Brockway – then MP for Slough – lost by eleven votes in that General Election. We were horrified. He had been vilified by the local and national press through the Tories for his support of the anti-apartheid movement and his work with ethnic minorities.

That was why we joined the Party- so that as well as voting Labour which we had ever since we could vote at the age of 21, we could actually work for a Labour victory at the next General Election. We then went on to support the local elections in 1965, and worked for Joan Lestor who became MP for Slough for the next 17 years.

This year in Bournemouth I am a first-time delegate – a ‘virgin’ as they call us. The difficulty is however that I am also in the exhibition area on a stand for Labour Women’s Network (LWN) which is a voluntary organisation that supports, advises and informs women in the Labour Party who wish to enter public life.

I have been doing this for 18 years since LWN was formed in 1988 and have hundreds of women friends among those who ‘made it’ and became MPs, and those who are still trying to be selected. There are also many many women who serve as local government councillors, including myself now, because I have just become a parish councillor.

We arrived early on Saturday so that on Sunday morning we could go to the Bournemouth International Centre (BIC) and set up the stand. We had some difficulties because although my husband had an exhibition credential, mine was as a delegate and delegates were not really supposed to go into the conference until midday. However, the security folk were really kind and understanding and let me in when I explained.

I didn’t realise that there was so much work for delegates. We had a briefing session on Sunday morning, where we met with other delegates from our region and our regional team. They look after you all the time you are in the conference hall. I am full of admiration for the organisation and the work that goes into making it all happen.

I helped in a training session on Tuesday morning which was really good, talking to women who wish to go forward as parliamentary candidates, and hearing ‘top tips’ from existing women MPs Fiona Mactaggart (MP for Slough), Lynda Waltho (Stourbridge), Barbara Keeley (Worsley & South Eccles), and the always delightful Barbara Follett (Stevenage) who entertained us hugely with changing women’s jackets, using a scarf, and generally explaining about colours.

One woman left the room on Cloud Nine because Barbara had told her she was wearing all the right clothes and that she was very confident. I told her that she could now say she had been ‘folleted’!

I have met so many old, and new, friends this week that it makes me realise how privileged I have been to have joined the Party all those years ago. We really do have the ability to change peoples lives, and that is a very humbling experience.