Me with Tony Benn
I suppose for many the story of conference is full of tales of wild behaviour, drink and drug fuelled binges and illicit liaisons with the opposite (or indeed same) sex. Well happily this is not one of those stories. It’s the tale of traffic jams, tired feet, sore eyes and the inside of West Mids and Northern Rails finest rolling stock.
Here is my report on Conference 2011:
I arrived nice and early at approx 9am after negotiating the road works at the end of the East Lancs in Walton to see the Andrew Marr show being filmed. I intended to attend the delegate briefing at 10am, hence the early arrival, but discovered that it wasn’t on site there but at the Green Room which was a fairly decent walk away, and after going through security already, I didn’t fancy getting back in through security so soon, so I left that and picked up a conference paper to read. I then realised that I hadn’t received a conference brochure (not the only thing I needed that I hadn’t got as we shall see later) and so I had to go off site to find conference services and pick one up.
Back in the secure zone, I had a panic that I hadn’t made a note where the NW regional delegate briefing was to be held, but a quick email to Lucy Smith sorted that out. The exhibitors section soon opened, so I wandered round there, got my bearings, picked up some pens etc etc.
The delegate briefing and lunch was held at 12 noon so I got myself off there and found it really useful. It was good to meet other delegates, speaking to my counterparts from CLPs in Chorley, Blackpool South and Worsley and Eccles. We were welcomed by Anna Hutchinson, introduced to the NW regional staff and heard from Luciana Berger, MP for Liverpool Wavertree, about “Refounding Labour” which was to be debated and voted on later that afternoon. It was at this point, that I realised that a 2nd important document hadn’t arrived with me as I hadn’t seen the Refounding Labour document. Luckily, I had printed off and read a NEC report on it, so I knew the main headlines. The point was made by a couple of fellow delegates that to have the debate and vote on day 1 of conference wasn’t ideal as all delegates couldn’t possibly have had the time digest it properly. We had a nice lunch and then off to the main hall for the opening speeches.
Joe Anderson, leader of LCC opened proceedings, which went down well, especially when he pointed out that they had seen off the Lib Dems and there was a short video from “comedian” John Bishop which was as funny as you would expect. Then it was into the opening addresses. At this point I popped out to vote on the contemporary ballots, again it’s difficult to really decide when you are only given the options an hour or so before hand.
I voted on:
- Phone Hacking
- Post Offices
- Public Services
- Services for young people
These were issues I felt were important but as I say, it is difficult to make an informed decision when only given the information on the day and there is much information to take onboard in such a short time period, so as I say, I took the decision based on what was important to me.
I took the time at this point to take a proper walk round the exhibition hall, as the stalls were all pretty much open for business and bumped in John Harris of The Guardian. I told him about when he interviewed me for the NME back in 1992 but hadn’t printed it, so he suggested a quick interview for his videoblog that he was producing for The Guardian site. This appeared in a much edited way, slightly changing the context of what I said, but it’s not the 1st time a journalist has stitched me up a little so it is something I am used to.
Back in the hall and it was the turn of Tessa Jowell to speak about the Olympics 2012, which led to a great speech by Ken Livingstone to speak about his bid to regain the mayorship of London. The speech he made and the video shown about his campaign was inspirational, which made you realise how important it is that he returns as mayor next year. Then it was the debate on Refounding Labour. It was a good debate with Peter Hain introducing the work he had done on it before the debate from the floor. It was noticeable that there was no dissenting voices chosen from the floor and the delegates chosen to a man and woman spoke in favour of the document. At the end of the debate a card vote was taken I voted in favour of it, based on the information I had seen and it was also announced that that vote counting for the contemporary ballots had been delayed and the results were to be announced on Monday morning.
Once the speeches in the hall had finished, it was time to go to the North West regional reception where again Joe Anderson spoke with passion alongside Ivan Lewis who spoke mainly about the phone hacking. I popped out of the room and missed Harriet Harman but was back in time to see Ed Milliband speak mainly about Refounding Labour and how important it was to the party.
The speeches in the hall had overrun and with going to the NW reception I ended up missing a fringe event about revitalising membership of the party and ending London domination. Had the event been in the secure zone then no problem but it was at the Malmaison which was a good 20 min walk away, so sadly I didn’t get make it, which is something I do regret.
I was press ganged into attending the Compass Rally about building the good society, but this had already started and there were no seats so I didn’t really stay too long but saw Peter Hain speak. I decided to attend the Small Business reception hosted by the Federation of Small Businesses. It was useful to speak to their representatives about what services they offer and to hear Chuka Umunna, the shadow small business minister, who spoke about Labour plans for enterprise which basically gave notice of what Ed Balls was to say the next day.
I had a ticket to attend the Movement for Change event with David Milliband, which advised early entry so I arrived early, stood in a queue for 25 mins, there was no sign of entry and didn’t like the heavy security that even his brother didn’t have so I decided to get back to the car and leave with an early Monday morning in mind.
It was an early arrival on the Monday thanks to an early train and so I was there in plenty time to prepare for the day, catch up on the conference paper and a quick word with some of my fellow delegates. I was in the hall early also, for the start of the daily business that included a passionate speech from Carwyn Jones, the first minister of Wales and the EPLP report from Glenis Wilmot as well as the result from the previous days vote on Refounding Labour, passed by conference and the delayed results on the contemporary votes, which brought some dissention from some delegates who weren’t happy about how they had been dealt with by the CAC.
I didn’t see Harriet Harmans speech as I needed to stretch my legs, but was back in the hall to see a great speech by Jim Murphy on the armed forces, a speaker I hadn’t seen before but someone who certainly could hold a crowd and was forceful in his points. He introduced Dan Jarvis, MP for Barnsley Central who himself had served in the Paras. There followed a speech by Douglas Alexander giving his report as shadow foreign secretary and then the speech most had been waiting for, the start of the Prosperity and Work session, opened by Ed Balls, who laid out the economic plans of the party including his 5 point plan for getting the economy moving again. A speech that went down superbly in the hall and gave people a buzz as they left for their lunch or their fringe events.
I popped into the NUT event “Hands on or Hands off” which discussed the position of local authorities in schools and to what extent they should be involved. The discussion involved various union reps from Unison and NUT, a representative of a local authority in London as well as Andy Burnham. A number of great speeches were made all spoken with passion, and the upshot of the discussion was that local authorities must retain some say in the running of schools, parents would expect it, if they had issues or needed something to be sorted, they would clearly prefer to contact the local authority instead of a Govt dept in London or the school sponsor.
From there, it was back into the main hall for the continuation of the Prosperity and Work session, where John Denham spoke about business and enterprise. This was a decent speech but I do find it difficult to be inspired by him, he always comes across to me that he should have a part in “Minder”. The session continued with Maria Eagle who spoke well on the future of transport in the country. The session concluded with a roundtable discussion with Eagle and Denham with various business people, young labour members and students. This was an interesting session that showed how scared the young are for their work future and how business wishes it could help and do more. Of course this was the afternoon of Rory Weal and his passionate speech which brought the house down. Funny that the speaker straight after didn’t get the same reaction from Ed Milliband or indeed the press, that was probably due to her damning views on his plans to reduce tuition fees to £6K and not scrap them totally etc.
I didn’t see Liam Byrne or the Scottish report as the hall was getting warm and I needed to grab some fresh air and Liverpudlian sun.
In the evening I attended the “Fairness not favouritism for the North” event which was hosted by The Smith Institute. I thought this would be about the party and the North but was about regeneration, which I didn’t find too interesting, made even more difficult by the lack of microphones and so it was difficult to hear what was going on. I did plan to attend an event where Tony Benn was appearing, but again this was offsite and would have been well into its swing by the time I got there and so I decided to get the train so that I got home in good time to relax in order for the busy day ahead, with the leaders speech in the forefront of the mind. On the way out I managed to catch a few words with Michael Crick from Newsnight/CH4 news, a man who I always like to listen to and read his books.
Being a member of the Co-Op Party as well as a member of a supporters trust and supporter of all things mutual I was looking forward to the speaker from the Co-Op party in the main hall, but sadly due to timing changes, he was put off till Wednesday, the only day I wasn’t at conference, so after listening to the opening remarks I made my way to the Blackwells stall where Tony Benn was due to do a signing. It was a pleasure to meet the man and pass a few remarks with him as he signed my book but was sad to see how frail he was, he could barely hold the pen to sign his name.
In the main hall, I listened to Angela Eagle speak about treasury matters. I have to say that unlike the speech made the previous day by her sister, this left me a little cold. It was then the turn of Ivan Lewis to speak on culture, media and sport. I enjoyed his speech, which due to my interest in the media I found interesting and it was good to see him pay tribute to the sterling work done by Mark Watson on the News International phone hacking. As I say, I enjoyed the speech and it went down well in the hall, which is ironic now considering that if the rumours are to be believed, Lewis is due to be moved in the forthcoming shuffle.
I popped outside for some fresh air and bumped into Helen so I thought it a good idea to introduce myself. She took me off for a drink at the USDAW stand and we had a chat about conference and what I had been up to etc, but time sadly beat us and it was time to join the queue for the leaders speech.
I was stood in the queue for 90 minutes to be allowed to sit in my own reserved seats, whilst the likes of David Baddiel, Eddie Izzard, Jimmy Page and Rory Weal were fast-tracked into the hall. There must be a better way of allowing people into the hall, maybe having time slots for delegates, then for people with balcony seats etc.
As for the speech, well you have probably all seen it. I thought it was good and said what needed to be said at this stage of proceedings. I haven’t been a huge fan of Ed over the past 12 months or so, but since the summer with his response to the riots and the Murdoch incidents he has risen in stock in my eyes and his speech only enhanced this. I read the following day or so, that Michael Crick thought there was no buzz in the hall and also as delegates left the hall, and this is the benchmark for a leaders speech, but as I left there was certainly a buzz, many smiling faces and people seemed genuinely happy with what they had just heard.
In the evening, I attended the IPPR fringe event called “New Generation Labour: Can Labour win in 2015?” which was a panel debate that contained Douglas Alexander, Sadiq Khan, Stella Creasy and Rowenna Davis, author of the new book on Blue Labour. I found this debate enlightening and very useful, it debated how Labour can win the next election and what tools it has at its fingers to do it. The outcome was that there is a great chance of victory in 2015 due to:
- The intake of new MPs in 2010, Douglas Alexander stating he thought it was the best since 1997.
- A leader finally finding he feet and starting to say what people on the street are wanting to hear
- A party united. There has been no circular firing squads as with previous election defeats and everyone is working closely with a common goal
- A coalition that is losing touch with the man in the street, showing arrogance and not finding out what people want from their government.
- Labour wishing to work with the public, building relationships with them and actually listening to them.
- Not looking at what the party “is against but what it stands for”
There was however a few flys in the ointment so to speak. The boundry changes cannot be underestimated and will hit the party hard and also the party needs to concentrate on the points above. It was also remarked about the delegates attending conference that were there for the party and not walking round as if they were MPs in the making.
I planned to attend The Observer interview with Yvette Cooper which would have been interesting, but I actually felt physically exhausted and wouldn’t have been able to give it my full attention so I left to catch my train.
I didn’t attend conference on Wednesday as I was needed in work.
And so to the final morning, with a sad feeling. I started to feel that I was part of that secure bubble in Liverpool and was sad to be leaving it. As usual I was in the hall for the early exchanges and to listen to Shaun Woodward give his Northern Ireland report. As someone who visited Belfast for the 1st time last year and got to see some of the areas that had been affected by the troubles over the years, it was interesting to hear him speak about the province and to hear him speak of how proud he was that Labour had put the Good Friday agreement into place.
It was then time to take one last walk round the exhibition hall to see who was left and what I could still pick up. I had seen the previous day that Helen was hosting an event with Lisa Nandy and Fiona McTaggert so decided to attend, however I when I got there I noticed no one else about so I hung back and the event signs were taken down and cancelled which was a shame.
Back in the hall and the speech and debate was on community and local government, beginning with Caroline Flint who spoke very well and went down well in the hall. She also hosted a round table event with some new and local councillors that was interesting.
It was then time for the closing speeches from Hilary Benn and the final missive from Harriet Harman that sent everyone back to their constituencies with a spring in their step for the weeks, months and years to come.
Of course there was time for a quality piece of communal singing accompanied by two flautists as Jerusalem and a happily restored these days Red Flag.
On the way out I managed to get my songsheet signed by Ed Milliband and that brought conference week to an end.