One of my photos

Labour conference – day one

September 28th, 2009 · Posted by Skuds in Politics · 1 Comment · Politics

The Brighton Centre, venue for the 2009 Labour Party Conference

The Brighton Centre, venue for the 2009 Labour Party Conference

Well I finally made it to a party conference.  It is too early to know yet whether the conference is/will be a success for the party or for me.  I am still getting used to the whole thing.

As it is only down the road I am commuting, making use of the 20% discount I get on rail travel through the Easit scheme.   It does mean I can’t stay out late boozing, but that shouldn’t be a problem, except for Tuesday.  Taking the train also meant I could finally listen to the last Torchwood podcast that I had never got around to playing.I arrived a bit early and wandered round Brighton in the glorious sunshine for a while.  It really was a good day to be at the seaside: nearly the end of September and there were actual sunbathers on the beach!

Eventually I made my way into the ‘ring of steel’, negotiating the security with no trouble at all.  That was a bit of a relief, given all the various electronic stuff in my bag (camera, lenses, other accessories, other camera, binoculars, mobile phone, mp3 player, spare batteries for everything).  I didnt; really need all that stuff – just didn;t bother to take what I didn’t need out of the bag.

Outside the venue I was chatting to the chap who is replacing John Prescott.  To be more accurate, he is the candidate for JP’s seat at the next election – I don’t think anybody can actually replace Prescott as such.  I also bumped into quite a few people that I know from Crawley, Horsham and beyond.

Before the actual kick-off I had a look around the various exhibitions and had a chat with the party’s new media gurus.  They couldn’t sort out my problems loggin into Membersnet though. Have to try again tomorrow.

I was disappointed that the hall was quite empty with lots of vacant seats, but apparently that is normal for the Sunday.  I was told that it gets busier during the week.

Still not sure I understand what is going on all the time though.  For a start I didn’t know if I had to sit anywhere special.  My pass just said “Floor”.  It turns out there is a special section for ‘ex officio’ people so I sat there amongst the young, enthusiastic PPCs with their laptops and Blackberries, trying to hear the speeched onthe PA system over the sound of keyboards and Windows startup sounds behind me.

Gordon Brown at the 2009 Conference

Gordon Brown at the 2009 Conference

There were some good speeches from Ed Milliband and Douglas Alexander, talking about the next election, and also from Rhodri Morgan giving his last address to the conference as Welsh Leader, who supplied the quote of the day about combining the mushy peas of old Labour and the guacamole of new Labour.

Douglas Alexander was talking about the approach to the next election, and Crawley was one of the constituencies he singled out for mention, praising the amount of campaignning work being done here.

At some point in the afternoon session I popped out for some fresh air and to give my buttocks a rest.  The seats in the Brighton Centre are quite unforgiving after about an hour.  I was reminded of going to mayoral functions and getting warned by the driver when an event was a two-hour one but with 30-minute furniture.

No sooner had I stretched my legs a bit than I got interviewed by the BBC.  I have studiously avoided any media training but follow my own strategy of giving responses so boring  or so long and unquotable that I won’t be used for transmission.  If I was in a marginal constituency I would have a different approach I guess.

I was asked what my message to Gordon Brown would be if he was standing in front of me.  I resisted the temptation to say ‘scrap Trident and spend the money on more T45 destroyers, hospitals and budget deficit cuts’.

Instead I just said he should come to Horsham and meet with the people there.  It would be good to see him out in Horsham: a real fillip to the local party.  Of course, the BBC tried to twist that: “are you saying he is not visible enough?”.

Gordon Brown with the new intake of PPCs, possibly asking them what they want to do when they leave school.

Gordon Brown with the new intake of PPCs, possibly asking them what they want to do when they leave school.

I returned to the hall in time to see Antonia Bance and her colleagues in Oxford receive an award for their campaigning, and then there was a session where a load of PPCs sat up on the stage and had a question and answer session with Gordon Brown and Harriet Harman.

I watched this from the ex officio pen because I was not amongst the PPCs chosen to be on the stage.  Not sure why that is but the ones up there were all young, attractive, smartly-dressed and standing in winnable seats which may have something to do with it.

After the main session ended I was going to go to a BBC World Service reception I had been invited to, but the venue was somewhere not listed on the conference maps.  Rather than hunt for it, I ducked into the nearest fringe event.

This was a session about economics, in particular the prospect of a sustainable world economy.  It was a fascinating session and I am glad I went outside my comfort zone to attend it.  There was not a coherent policy as such, but lots of very interesting specific examples and the encouraging sight of the Chief Executives of the Institue of Chartered Accountants and the WWF collaborating.  Hilary Benn was also speaking, and they all appeared in agreement about the narrow-mindedness and ultimate futility of endless growth as an aspiration, and using GDP as the main criterion for success.

As soon as that finished I went upstairs to a reception for the South East Labour parties.  It was good to see a few more familiar faces, but by then I was suffering from a right headache – I don;t know if it was from all the speeches, the lights in the main venue, air-conditioning, the lack of food during the day or a combination, but I just wanted to go home.  So I did.

On the way, I nipped into a Tesco Express and got a bottle of water and some Paracetamol  + a sandwich.  By the time the train reached Crawley I was feeling OK again and ready for tomorrow.

I am now halfway to becoming a veteran.  I already know where to sit and to try and avoid sitting too close to the laptiop users.  I am undecided about whether to wear a suit or stick with the cargo trousers and t-shirt motif, but I am sorely tempted to take a cushion.

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