Ian Austin

Independent for Dudley North

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Conference Diary, Sunday 21 September

This year's conference has begun with debate over the Scottish Referendum result and the announcement of an £8 minimum wage.

As delegates arrived in Manchester over the weekend the big story in the media is the Scottish Referendum result which has kicked off a debate about powers in the rest of the country.

The devolution settlement is obviously unbalanced and people in England want this issue dealt with, but there are no easy answers.

I think this is the greatest country in the world. We ended slavery, defeated fascism and built the NHS. We are a beacon to the rest of the world for the values of democracy, equality, freedom, fairness and tolerance, so I want to see the bonds that hold our country together strengthened.

I have always said we should devolve greater powers to England and the English regions. I think we should decide how to sort out transport problems, boost the economy, get people back to work and improve skills in the West Midlands and the Black Country, so I'm telling people in Manchester that power should be devolved to the regions and to local councils and communities too.

But conference isn't just about the national issues, it's also an opportunity to recognise campaigners up and down the country who are working hard to find ways of improving their local communities.

I'm delighted to be able to report that Dudley North Labour Party has won a coveted campaigning award for the work we do keeping in touch with local people. When I was drawn for a question at PMQs recently I asked thousands of local people what I should say because it's my job to go to London and speak up for them.

On a lighter note, West Midlands delegates attended a reception where Labour leader Ed Miliband told us about his plans to raise the minimum wage to £8 in the next Parliament. We also heard from 14-year-old Alex Russell from Halesowen. Alex had asked for a Labour Party Membership for his birthday, but he was surprised to have it presented to him in person by Ed Miliband and Steph Peacock our candidate for Halesowen and Rowley Regis!

Yesterday was also the annual football match between the journalists and the Labour Party team. I was in Dudley paying tribute to the Second World War heroes who fought for our freedom at our annual Battle of Britain commemoration, but Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls and Health Secretary Andy Burnham both turned out. It was a bruising match with one journalist coming away bloodied after a clash with Ed Balls, but the journalists came out on top in the end winning 2-1.

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