The main debate was on Ukraine. A motion, based on the Stop the War (StW) position, was proposed on the basis that we all want peace and an end to war, and that NATO was the main problem. There was an attempt to amend the motion to include a recognition of the Ukrainians right to self-determination and self-defence, moved by the past president of the union in a very impassioned speech, on the basis that you had to look at the reality of what was happening now in Ukraine. They were fighting for their existence and in such a situation you had to support them against the Russian invaders. However, the amendment was lost by about two to one and many of us felt that the weak position of the main motion would then pass. As the debate on further amendments proceeded, the weakness of the main motions position of avoiding any reference to self-determination and self-defence but just calling for solidarity with Ukraine, whatever that may mean in concrete terms, became clearer to many delegates. The final vote was a surprise. The main motion was rejected by a clear majority of the delegates. This left the NEU with no agreed position on the war in Ukraine. Both the StW position and the self-determination position had been defeated, which I think leaves the NEU districts free to decide their own positions on Ukraine. This loss by the supporters of the motion led to rather strange comments on social media, the supporters of the self-determination position were called war mongers and various comments of the ‘History will absolve us’ type were sent. However, some sort of unity was eventually restored when all the Conference delegates wore blue ‘Say it loud, Say it clear, Refugees are welcome here’ t-shirts in a massive photo-shoot.
Earlier, the Shadow Secretary of State for Education, one Bridget Phillipson, gave a speech. She must have known the NEU position on Ofsted, passed yesterday, but she tried to talk about reforming Ofsted. This was a bit of a red rag to many delegates who heckled her and eventually there was a large walk out of delegates. The Shadow Secretary of State for Education gave no real commitments on funding, on working conditions or on assessment. In fact almost the only clear statements were that Ofsted would continue, although it might be modified a bit, and she would endeavour to spend more on the Early Years. It felt to many delegates that she was determined to stick to her prepared speech, she made no effort to respond to the heckling and just ploughed through her speech. Many delegates after the session thinking how are Starmer’s New Labour different from the Tories on education policy.
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