One of my photos

Labour conference – day five

October 2nd, 2009 · Posted by Skuds in Politics · 3 Comments · Politics

The floor of the hall immediately after the end of the conference

The floor of the hall immediately after the end of the conference

The last day of conference is a funny one.  It is only a half-day for a start.  I imagine the original reason for that is so that delegates and others can stand a chance of getting home afterwards if they live at the other end of the country.

That does still apply, of course, for delegates and organisers who have a committment to be at the whole thing.  Other more casual visitors often decide that the extra night in whichever town is not worth it for half a day, especially when the main event (the leader’s speech) has already been and gone.  People with jobs will also wonder about taking an extra day off their holiday entitlement for half a day.

Consequently the place is a hell of a lot quieter.  fewer people around and there were even a couple of satellite uplink vans fewer than the day before.

To counteract this, the upstairs balcony is closed off so that the people who remian are not too spread out, also members of local parties are encouraged to come along for the day by getting free admission on the last day.  I think it is a shame because the atmosphere is really good – like the last day of term when you were at school.

It is also a shame because there were some good speeches made on the last day – the deputy leader obviously, but also some fine contributions from David Milliband and Douglas Alexander.

Crawley MP, Laura Moffatt, being interviewed for the TV

Crawley MP, Laura Moffatt, being interviewed for the TV

I turned up a bit later, missing the fisrst session, which I think was the Northern Ireland report, but did enjoy the Britain in the World report and the emergency resolutions: one about the East Coast Mainline and one about the Sri Lankan Tamils, both of which were overwhelmingly accepted.

I had to pay a visit to the gents, and while I was out of the hall decided to pop out for a quick smoke. The first thing I saw when I got out there was my own MP being interviewed for some TV programme or other.

When i got back in I joined the rest of the Crawley crowd – there were about half a dozen of us together, plus a couple more who were about to appear on stage for some reason or other.  I think they were supposed to represent the wide variety of people that the party supports as there were quite a few in diferent work clothes.  Our two were there as either pensioners or veterans or both.

I thought that the Alexander and Milliband speeches were very good.  They followed the normal template of having at least half the content directly related to their own portfolio, but still leaving space to repeat a few things about the overall policies, the dangers of a Tory government and how the election is till there to be won.

I had been bothered about the amount of repetition until I had a flash or two of the blindingly obvious.  First of all I remembered from various communication exercises at work that you really can’t tell people the same thing too often.  Say something once and it might get missed, but those who don’t miss it will forget it – you have to keep re-inforcing the message to make it stick.  Secondlt, I had been worried that we keep making the same few specific criticisms of the Tories.  There must be more to criticise than their opinion that the best way to tackle a meltdown of the banking system is to sit back and hope it all works itself out and their intention to prioritise giving out huge tax breaks to the 3000 richest estates.

Harriet Harman, wearing her deputy leader hat for the closing speech

Harriet Harman, wearing her deputy leader hat for the closing speech

OK, there were more things than that mentioned, but these two were always mentioned by every official speaker. Then I realised – the inheritabce tax is the only Tory party policy we can really lay into because it is the only specific policy they have.  Their reaction to the global recession is just about the only time they have really said specifically what they would do and it was wrongity-wrong.

No wonder they have kept so quiet about specifics, because they do not do themselves any favours when they do: tax cuts for the very rich and bringing back fox hunting is just about all they have really come up with so far.

As normal, the event ended with the singing of The Red Flag and Jerusalem.  Having not been raised in a socialist family, steeped in tradition, and although I am staunchly atheist, I am a lot more familiar with the words to Jerusalem, which I think is a terrific song despite being a hymn.  Of course my familiarity may be more to do with the fact that ELP did a version of it on their Brain Salad Surgery LP…

Once the official events had concluded I went a few blocks along to a restaurant where Laura was hosting a lunch for the Crawley members who were there, plus some PPCs from surrounding constituencies.  I qualified on both counts so maybe I should have had two meals 🙂

The post-conference lunch

The post-conference lunch

It was a very pleasant way to end the week, and many thanks to Laura for doing that. Not only was it a good meal in good company but it was also a chance to take some photos without having to rely on the long lens.  Not only that, the absence of press photographers meant that, at last, I had the biggest camera in the building.  A welcome situation after five days of relentless camera-envy as the media wandered around everywhere with their cameras of cartoon proportions.

Even better: it was another sunny day, so afterwards I walked back along the beach and tried out my new circular polarizing filter.  Having a new toy to play with made up for me forgetting my mp3 player and having to endure everybody else’s mobile phone calls on the train journey there and back.

Looking back at the week, I am really glad to have gone.  I think it was under the best circumstances too – being able to go back home each day.  I think that staying in the host city you could end up spending far too much time getting wasted in the pubs just to pass the time.

I am sure there was a bit of stage management going on, but not as much as a cynic might have expected.  yes it was suspicious that so many of the people called from the floor to speak had their speeches all ready, almost as if they knew they were going to be called and it was suspicious that so many of those called just happened to be PPCs that needed the publicity or trade union bosses or NPF members, and that a couple of speeches sounded like they could have been written by party HQ – but then again, quite a few people called from the floor were gloriously off-topic, off-message or both.  In a way it was a bit of a disappointment to find that all the accusations of the party being manipulative masters of spin and control-freakery were not true.  As a candidate I had no messages telling me what to do, what to say or what to think.

Conclusion: go to a party conference if you get the chance, but only go as an official delegate if you don’t mind having to do a lot of extra work – I saw them all assiduously taking notes, and heading off for policy seminars while the rest of us were swanning off to fringe meetings. On the plus side, delegates get their admission, travel accommodation and subsistance paid for by the body that sends them – but I think the £200 it cost me to get a pass and to get a train each day was a small price to pay for not having to do all that work.

Do go to as many fringe meetings as you can too and go to a variety of them.  You may be overwhelmingly concerned about health or education or housing but don’t just go to meetings about your favourite obsession: get out of your comfort zone and have your eyes opened.  Some of the events are a great chance to see some really big names in really small rooms, where you have a lot more chance of getting a question in than you do when the same people are on the platform in the main hall.

The top tip is take a carrier bag.  You will soon get swamped with papers – the conference newspaper, daily report from the organising committee, flyers and pamphlets thrust at you all the time, not to mention all the stuff you might pick up from stands at the exhibitions or handouts at fringe meetings.

Fortunately quite a few of the exhibition stands were giving away re-usable shopping bags alongside the traditional pens and badges – so make that your first stop.

Every year I hear reports from conference delegates at my constituency meetings and they always say the same thing – how great it was and how inspiring it was and how everyone should go to renew their faith in the party and its ideals.  I always took it with a pinch of salt, but swipe me it turns out they were all right.  I made new friends, caught up with old ones and generally had a brilliant time.

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3 Comments so far ↓

  • Danivon

    >As normal, the event ended with the singing of The Red Flag and Jerusalem.

    Not that normal. In the two years I attended, these were deliberately avoided, and loud music played at Close.

  • Skuds

    Sorry – I forgot the Blair years 😉

  • Gordon Seekings

    Skuds – everybody is trying to forget the Blair years…………………..and the Brown years, and the Thatcher years, and the Major years……. 🙂