It is 10:30am on Saturday 30th January in the small Essex town of Witham, and the Labour Hall is already starting to fill with enthusiastic members ahead of the first regional policy forum of 2016.
The theme of the day is to be transport, and guest speakers are to include MPs Lilian Greenwood and Daniel Zeichner, Richard Howitt MEP and a representative from the train drivers union, ASLEF. Members old and new--faces familiar and unfamiliar--all gradually make their way to their seats; it's time to commence proceedings.
After a few salutations on behalf of the hosts, we are informed that the centrepiece of the policy forum will consist of multiple group discussions on various subjects regarding the topic of transport--from railways to airports, to walking and cycling. But first, a few words from each of the guest speakers. One recurring motif quickly emerges above all others: the renationalisation of Britain's railways. According to a YouGov poll (why-do-people-support-rail-nationalisation?) the majority of the British public support it, and the success of the East Coast Mainline (Guardian-east-coast-mainline-why-privatise?) before being privatised in 2015 appears to vindicate the views of those who believe that renationalisation can and would deliver a more efficient, cheaper and reliable service than the current private monopoly franchises. On the issue of how best to run Britain's railways, the momentum is with Labour.
But it's not just the issue of the railways which is up for discussion. Breaking off into groups, now is the opportunity for the members to have their say on how to approach many of the current issues relating to transport; and how Labour might be able to solve them. Better airport infrastructure; more regional rail links; regular evening bus services--there were more than enough ideas to fuel debate for a long time to come. With each group's ideas presented to the rest of the hall, a concluding speech by Richard Howitt MEP outlining the 'Labour In For Britain' EU referendum campaign brings us to the end of a stimulating and engaging half-day of policy discussion--a small but important step on the road to putting Labour back into government come 2020.