Monday 30 September 2013

Spartacus and Labour conference - An impartial view

It's increasingly hard to write this blog. So much of what I do goes unsaid, so much I can't share.

If I try to report an important meeting or key shift, I sound self-important or arrogant. Perhaps naive or cynical. My experiences today come from a million different moments, a million conversations. From reports I've read or speeches I've given. From looking deep into someone's eyes and trying to decide whether I trust them or not.

So every year, I buzz around Labour conference, squeezing every last drop of value from the people I'm lucky enough to meet, making every moment that I can count. I schmooze and I nag, I flirt and I chide, I try so very hard to convince and explain.

But I share it all with you less and less, aware that you only get my version of events, my opinions, my hopes.

This year, I spent a lot of my time with Stef Benstead (one of the lead researchers on ESA for Spartacus) and her friend and PA Claire Whittingham.

I thought it might be more interesting if Claire told you all how it was. I just asked her to truly write what she thought. I didn't want to know what it might say. A conference virgin, with no real political bias, I hope her experience tells you more than I ever could.

"If I asked you where you were when Sue Marsh got up on the main stage during the Labour Party conference what would you say?

My answer is I was in that hall. In fact I was sat next to Sue moments beforehand. I was there after as well, after Sue had just spoken so passionately. I felt proud to know her and be part of Spartacus history. Let's face it, dear reader, it was momentous and incredibly special.

Having initially been asked by Stef Benstead to assist her for the duration of conference I didn't think I'd take a lot of what was to be said in, or take in who I'd seen. I now realise I was far from right on this. I felt empowered, intrigued, exhausted and politically starstruck!

Stef and I attended various welfare related fringe events at the various venues. Some provided refreshments, few didn't. Some were for a handful of people. Some were in the main hall. Stef had also hoped to attend a One Nation Church service on the Sunday, being a wheelchair user meant she needed accessible events and this was (according to the conference brochure) one of them.

Upon our arrival it was discovered there was no step free access! The church assistants couldn't apologise enough. All other venues, including the Brighton Centre, were accessible with some meaning you went a rather scenic route!

We had planned to meet with Sue, who we knew would be busier than the politicians as she campaigned on behalf of Spartacus, but didn't know we would spend 90% of our time with her! 

The days were long and we would, on more than 3 occasions, have to rush about between events, but the sheer exhaustion was worth it. I discovered that Labour now use the term 'social security' as opposed to 'welfare'.

I can now confirm that Sue Marsh eats, sleeps and breathes Spartacus. Every person we met along the way now knew about Spartacus. We met Liam Byrne, Dame Anne Begg, Anne McGuire, Sheila Gilmore, Lord Glasman, Jon Cruddas and several other political figures including John Prescott and Alastair Campbell. 

Journalists and peers kept giving her cuddles!

There were also opportunities to meet with people from various disability charities such as RNIB, for whom Sue was on a panel at a fringe event, Mind and Scope. Sue Marsh works her backside off. She doesn't do it for any monetary gain, fame or notoriety. "The Marsh", as I refer to her, does it for every single claimant affected by ESA and DLA changes. Sue does work even when she's poorly in hospital. And you know what? Not once did I see her complain about pain. I think I can safely say she ran on adrenaline throughout the conference. However, her mobility scooter driving skills did have myself and Stef laughing lots!

The fact ministers, MPs, journalists and so many other people stopped Sue to talk spoke volumes. She's very well respected by many associated with Labour. I hadn't realised, truthfully, just how much work Sue has done behind the scenes. I know so many have contributed too, so thank you to those who do so much as well.

To have been a part, albeit a very minor part, of the Labour c
onference was a privilege. To have been able to witness what both Stef and Sue do daily was wonderful. To see Sue speak passionately at panel events and the LabourList Rally was amazing. I wish I could do that every day.

The conference is being held in Manchester next year. I'm definitely going! I have to. Not for personal reasons but to help The Marsh and others spread what Spartacus is about. I learnt so much my head hurts but my whole opinion changed. If Labour get elected into 10 Downing Street and stick to their promises for Social Security then many thousands shall benefit, including myself.

So next time someone asks you about Spartacus or Sue then don't be afraid to say what you've read here."


  1. Great to read this. Thank you, Clare. I've never met Sue though I hope one day that I do. That she is amazing, I have never doubted. Here's to you, Sue and very big thank you for working so hard on behalf of us all.

  2. Sue you do all the sick and disabled proud and should be in the house of lords as the welfare minister

    As for lord fraud as the welfare minister that is one of the most
    bizarre appointments i have ever known

    firstly he's a so called businessman but he never was really he has never owned a business he is more of a fixer would be a better title

    he also claims"to promote the peace process" in Palestine and Israel using economic measures. there again there is no knowledge from this region with my contacts there never having heard of him

    And as for welfare there again he has had no training or indeed ever used the health service or from the days when i knew him had never even spoken to a sick or disabled person so how he come to be the welfare minister in the lords will always remain a mystery

    Hopefully when he gets to heaven he can tell the good lord his little secret of going through life at the top with no idea of any of the topics he's undertaking but pulling it off while pulling in millions of pounds into his bank account

    The welfare minister of the house of lords could only be sue marsh who knows most things on sick and disability issues she also knows what the needs are of this very diverse group of people are as she has herself had the very worst of condition's to live with and for many years i may add

    it's about time that this large group of people signed up to nominate sue for an award preferably if i had anything to do with it (dame)

    If just 100 people that's right just 100 people wrote in to nominate her she would be home and dry so i appeal to the million of sick and disabled to get on and just do it lets see sue in the lords where i feel she rightfully belongs

    i myself have known many lords in my time and titled people and in my mind sue ranks as a very distinguished expert in her field and ranks of one of the all time greats in the serving of the UK's sick and disabled

  3. Hi sue
    i have just be listening to Eric pickles speech about someone he knows aged 93 flowy and Newnham council who said she owed them 50000 pounds which stressed her and killed her ?

    Eric was so upset ? that a labour council killed her through stress

    this is the very first time in my life that i have heard a conservative politician speak out for someone who has died through negligence

    Eric must surely know of all the hundreds of deaths that have happened to the sick and disabled and he hasn't uttered a word ?

    what did you make of it sue ?

  4. Commission asks for disabled people’s input to compile list of key disability issues for UN

    30 September 2013

    The Equality and Human Rights Commission has published a questionnaire on its website today to get disabled people’s views on the priority disability issues that need to be reported to the United Nations in their examination of the rights of disabled people.

    The questionnaire, for disabled people and disabled people’s user-led organisations in England and Wales, is part of the Commission’s ongoing work on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

    Respondents are asked to pick from a list of ten priority problem areas that have been highlighted to the Commission by disabled people and disabled people's organisations such as transport, barriers to getting into work and poor access to justice.

    This information will be used to produce a submission on the list of issues for the United Nations Disability Committee to consider when it scrutinises the extent to which the UK Government is implementing the rights of disabled people under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2015.

    Ian Acheson, Chief Operating Officer at the Equality and Human Commission, said:

    “This questionnaire gives disabled people an opportunity to tell us about the problems they are facing and to influence how they are communicated to the United Nations. Protecting and promoting disabled people’s rights remains a priority for the Commission and we will continue to work with them to meet the needs and concerns of all disabled people.”


    For more press information contact the Commission’s media office on 0161 829 8102, out of hours 07767 272 818.

    Notes to Editors

    • The questionnaire can be found here – It will be available until February 2014 however, the Commission would like to receive as many responses as possible by 10 November to inform the next stage of the process.

    • The Commission has already held involvement and capacity building events with disabled people across England, Wales and Scotland. The priority areas listed in the questionnaire are based on their experiences of the extent to which the rights under the Convention are working in practice.

    • In Scotland, the Equality and Human Rights Commission works jointly with the Scottish Human Rights Commission to promote, protect and monitor implementation of the UN Disability Convention. There is a programme of joint work in Scotland to capture the views and experiences of disabled people that will be reflected in the Commissions’ work monitoring implementation of the Convention.

    • Find out more about the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities here -

    • The Commission is a statutory body established under the Equality Act 2006 and acts as the independent regulator of equality and human rights in Britain. It aims to reduce inequality, eliminate discrimination, strengthen good relations between people, and promote and protect human rights. The Commission enforces equality legislation on age, disability, gender, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation or transgender status, and encourages compliance with the Human Rights Act. It also provides advice and guidance to organisations across the public and private sectors.

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