The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Wednesday

The final day!

But not quite my final blog on the conference. Tomorrow I’ll collect my thoughts and do a short blog on my conclusions, what I have learned, tips for future conferences and so forth.

This morning, I did my delegate duty by attending a seminar on Crime, Justice and Immigration. One of my fellow members of the Winchester & Chandler’s Ford had asked me to put forward a few points on their behalf, regarding the problems faced by refugees who have had their initial asylum requests turned down and who are left languishing for years, destitute and in poor housing, waiting for their fresh claim to be processed by the Home Office. As well as the inefficiency of claims being processed (getting lost etc) there is also the issue that under current Conservative plans landlords will be prosecuted if they let out properties to people with no leave to remain, which is a problem for charities trying to house refugees whose initial asylum request has been turned down. I said all this Lord Falconer and members of his shadow justice team.

Other points made in the seminar by the team; Kier Sturmer – double injustice of immigrants undercutting wages while being exploited themselves; question of how free movement in EU is applied. Jack Dromey – Conservatives have cut 17,000 policemen, 20,000 more will go. Three areas that are of priority; child sex exploitation and abuse, banking and internet fraud and terrorism. Neighbourhood policing is the eyes and ears of the police on the ground and a major part of preventing terrorism. Jenny Chapman – Blair was right to be tough on the causes of crime, early intervention is crucial, Sure Start, education is the best form of crime prevention. Lord Falconer – although it is depressing how awful things are, it is positive that the public is now taking an interest in matters of justice such as the scrapping of the Human Rights Act (which he thinks should be taught in schools). Much of the legal system is no longer accessible to the poor. 90% of refugee children are now outside of the scope of the protection of our legal system.

After the seminar I rushed to the main hall. One thing I’ve learned about going to these things is that you can’t do everything and it’s okay to turn up after things have already started. I didn’t miss much, and arrived in time to hear what Lesley Mannaseh TUC speaker had to say. Unfortunately my coffee hadn’t kicked in so I zoned out a bit.

Fortunately it had kicked in for Sadiq Khan, our prospective Mayor for London. He’s not a bad speaker but talks as though his speech has been sabotaged by someone sprinkling random punctuation through it. It’s all. Stop. Start and major. Emphasis. On. The. Words you least expect. The overall effect is rather like William Shatner.  His points were good though; he owes London everything, all the opportunities it gave him he wants every Londoner to have. He will be the most pro-business Mayor London has ever had. He wants a transport system all Londoners can afford to use and all workers to be paid at least a living London wage. He will make his election a referendum on the London housing crisis. Londoners should have first dibs on new homes built in London. He will fight for more powers for the Mayor.

Then there was a the first emergency motion, on Colombia, which seemed perfectly fair to me, basically saying that Conference welcomes the peace process over there.

Unfortunately the emergency motion on Syria was problematic, for me. The problem was that it wasn’t about what Conference believes, but about what Conference believes the Parliamentary Labour Party should do. Essentially, the situation is that Labour MPs have been promised a free vote on military action in Syria – for them to vote according to their consciences. But this bill seemed to me to be an attempt to over-ride that, to cajole, coerce or intimidate our MPs into voting the way that the Conference wanted. Rather than according to their consciences.

That was my first problem with it. My second problem was it said we should oppose the UK bombing ISIS in Syria unless all four of the following criteria are met:

1) Clear and unambiguous authorisation for a bombing campaign from the UN
AND
2) A comprehensive EU-wide plan has to be in place to provide humanitarian assistance to refugees
AND
3) Bombing is exclusively directed at military targets directly associated with Islamic State.
AND
4) Military action is subordinated to international diplomatic efforts based on the idea that ONLY the Syrian government can ultimately retake territory currently controlled by ISIS (i.e. we can’t help them get their country back, only the Syrian government – who are not exactly the good guys – can do so).

And, if you look at those four points, it doesn’t take much imagination to think of scenarios where only 3 or 2 or even 1 of those (perfectly laudable) conditions have been met but where our military intervention could still save the lives of innocent Syrians. What if there is authorisation from the UN (which is unlikely) but no EU-wide plan for refugees? Do we ignore the wishes of the UN? And so on. If a UK plane patrolling a no-fly zone spots an ISIS rocket launcher firing at a town full of civilians – isn’t there a case to be made that that plane should intervene to save lives?

Thing is, although obviously I am against military intervention if it makes the situation worse, and I think (apart from maybe number 4) all of those criteria are things that definitely should happen, I think this was a bad motion because it was a) trying to over-ride the MPs’ free vote and b) trying to impose conditions that would make any sort of military intervention an impossibility. I think, in a rapidly changing conflict, our MPs should be free to make informed decisions without being hidebound to a checklist that may no longer apply.

(And I’m sceptical that ‘international diplomatic efforts’ will get anywhere with ISIS given that it is a death cult trying to bring about the apocalypse. How do you negotiate with people who want to end the world?)

I did knock up a few words but there was no opportunity to speak against the motion. Thank goodness.

A new, aerodynamically streamlined Lord Falconer gave a very entertaining and informative speech. It’s so nice to see one member of the Blair cabinet still around! Justice is now top of the agenda – it is the duty of the state to provide access to justice. And he said Labour should team up with Lib Dems and SNP and Tory rebels to defeat Tories in the House of Commons. We only need 7 or 8 to change sides! Thank goodness – someone finally has a plan! And it’s a Lord from the Blair years!

The speeches in favour of the composite motion on the refugee crisis were powerful but all – as you would expect – in favour of it and covering similar ground to each other. There was a moving speech from a woman seeking justice for her grandfather who had been killed, and the last delegate made the point that our MPs have a free vote.

Andy Burnham was next, and unlike Jeremy and others, to his credit he was willing to talk about the negative effects of free movement of workers in the EU, and that it had a particularly bad effect on the poorest communities. He said that he would put people before profits and make immigration work for everyone; stop undercutting wages and get EU funding for areas affected.

Regarding public safety, he said that in some areas the ‘thin blue line is rubbed out completely’. It was a better speech than Jeremy’s, but by the end Andy was acting like he had won the leadership election, punching the air. Calm down, calm down!

The next section was Health and Care with speakers from the floor supporting the composite motion on the NHS. The GMB delegate mentioned Nye Bevan and shouted ‘solidarity’. I was impressed by a speech made by a chap from Brighton whose family had suffered from medical negligence in the NHS; a lot of people in that situation would turn against the NHS, but this chap made the point that it was the inevitable consequence of cuts.

Luciana Berger, our shadow minister for Mental Health, made the point that one in four of us will suffer from mental health problems.

Heidi Alexander was next. I’ve met her a couple of times, she’s lovely, and she spearheaded an amazing – and amazingly successful – campaign to save Lewisham’s A & E. And it seems I’m not the only one who thinks highly of her. She got a huge cheer as she took the podium – there were even whoops and the odd wolfwhistle from some ardent feminists in the audience.

Her speech was great. She says ‘Jeremy Hunt’ as though it is the rudest swear word in the world (which it is). We built the NHS, now we must save it from £22billion ‘efficiency savings’; patient care will be put at risk, there will be cuts to staff, cuts to pay, cuts to treatment. GET PREPARED FOR THE FIGHT OF YOUR LIFE JEREMY YOU WILL BE SEEING A LOT MORE OF ME. She was the first speaker I’d heard who had structured their speech and delivery – highs and lows, emotion and content, and she was the first speaker I’d heard who was responsive to the audience. She got several standing ovations –spontaneous, leap-to-your-feet ovations, not like the hesitant ones from yesterday. I think she will be fantastic and make a huge difference long before 2020.

Next was Education and Children. Bex Bailey gave an earnest speech despite a mild wardrobe malfunction. There were some strong, moving speeches from speakers from the floor – a chap made the point that you might cut the money but there aren’t fewer kids with special needs, so cutting will just mean they will not get the chances in life they need.

A delegate from Kent described their education system, how some kids didn’t get into any of their first three choice schools. Hmmm. I’m not sure I think that’s how I would come at the problem, to be honest. The whole idea of parental choice is flawed – it’s only parental choice in the sense of schools choosing kids based on who their parents are – but anyway.

Another delegate rather colourfully said that the cuts were not cutting services to the bone. No. They were past that. Now they were “gouging out the marrow from the bones”.

Lucy Powell, shadow Education, gave her speech. And it was a shame, that she’d been so lively at the Progress event but on stage, giving a speech, she was terrible. She started by making a very very strange joke alluding to the reason for Jeremy Corbyn’s divorce in 1999. She’s on a mission to put Education at the Heart of Labour’s offer to the country in 2020. There’s no evidence that Academisation improves standards. It’s wrong that devolution doesn’t include education which is being centralised. She wants local educational oversight over all schools, controlling their intake and with the ability to intervene in failing schools, whatever the type. Grammar schools did not help social mobility. I was impressed that she said she would develop policy underpinned by evidence and hold the government to account, but on the whole I thought her speech was very poor; delivered all on one level in an emotionless, plodding monotone. Over on the other side of the stage Keith Vaz was slow-blinking like he was struggling not to fall asleep.

Then there were the votes. I voted for the motion on the refugee crisis and against the motion on Syria. I wasn’t alone, there were about a 100 of us. It would’ve been really weird if I was the only one. It was the only vote passed which wasn’t unanimous.

Tom Watson! I love Tom Watson, and have done so ever since he was Wolfie Smith’s sidekick in Citizen Smith. His speech was energetic, and I was glad to hear more about how Labour is going to extend employment rights to the self-employed – I’m self-employed and my boss is a right bastard, I can tell you. Microbusinesses are the future. He loves his numbers, does Tom, and went off on them at one point. Labour will refashion itself as a digital party – sounds dangerously close to a Plan – we have to do things online, not just do things differently but do different things. Labour needs to look like the people it seeks to represent.

There was a bizarre bit in the middle, though, where Tom asked 'And what is it that unites us as a party? It's called unity." That's an infinite logical regression, isn't it?

A bit of advice, though, Tom. Please don’t leave a long pause between “If we don’t speak for the 0-9ers” and “We will never win a general election again”. People can make a clip of you saying just the second bit out of context and put it on the internet! And the same goes for leaving a gap between “We have to be the party of everybody, or” and “We’re the party of nobody”. Hostage to fortune!

And then, in tribute to Tom’s sitcom days, the hall sang the theme tune to Citizen Smith. Except for the bit about ‘Power to the people’ at the end, which would’ve been fun. But seriously; for years I’ve seen these party conference singalongs on the telly and thought they made everyone there look really bad, really stuck in the past and out of touch, like a bunch of teachers at school assembly, and having experienced it from within I haven’t changed my mind. As for bloody Jerusalem... what is this, Last Night at the Proms? I followed our leaders’ example and exercise my right to do a Corbyn.

I’d rather sing something that everyone likes. Something with a spirit of inclusivity. Because I have an appetite for change – for the housing we so desperately need.

But I left the Conference thinking, "Hey, we all did pretty well. A good show of unity, maybe we can make this work after all..."

And then I got home, checked the news and discovered it was already falling apart.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Tuesday

Tuesday

A momentous day. Which began with a speech by Stella Creasy. I had a coffee and a pain au chocolat on the go but if I hadn’t I would have been applauding her enthusiastically. She was, after all, my first choice for deputy leader, and in her speech proved how good she would’ve been (and how good she is anyway).  Her speech was lively, upbeat, energetic about what we can DO in opposition, such as develop a  credit union. And then she made everyone in the hall feel incredibly old by saying that she felt old. Honestly. I don’t mean to be Sid the Sexist here but she was probably the youngest-looking person in the entire hall (and I reluctantly include myself in that). She can’t possibly be approaching middle age except from a very great distance.

Diana Holland, reporting from a policy commission (I shall look up the details later) on policies that we should have. Rail transport should be more accessible to people with disabilities (huge applause from me). A re-regulated (my notes) bus system (I think better regulated is what she said). Freeze energy bills (unless they’re getting cheaper). Improve energy efficiency in rented housing (something I’ve been banging on about for years – landlords have NO incentive to improve insulation). Prioritise rural energy, transport and broadband. And save the badgers.

Lisa Nandy – shadow environment and energy – gave a very good speech, I thought. Labour has led the world in fighting climate change thanks to the work of Prescott and Miliband at past conferences (Prescott banging heads together). But now we are relegated to the margins at the Paris conference thanks to Cameron. Tories sending a worrying signal to world by cancelling investment in clean energies. Local government has had successes, notably Nottingham, green energy can be democratised, produced by local communities.

Then it was time for words from delegates/the floor. The UN has warned that food banks are here to stay in the UK. Tories are poverty deniers on a crusade against the poor. Why are they closing steel works when steel will be needed for HS2? A delegate from the rail union was overjoyed that Labour now has a policy of rail nationalisation. Cock-a-hoop. Labour is not just anti-austerity but anti-neo-liberalism. And no to fracking. (Never mind the science, the economics of fracking doesn’t add up). And there was a charming speech from a proud bus driver.

And there was Tosh McDonald, Aslef’s answer to Rick Wakeman. His intervention...  was not, IMHO, a good look for the party, and his hectoring, triumphalist speech not a great message to send out. I could only imagine the Conservative party membership counter dial spinning with every second he was on stage.

And he’d already been on stage before. Shouldn’t there be some sort of rule about each delegate only getting one chance to speak to the conference? Seems unfair on all the people who didn’t get a chance to speak if one person (and he wasn’t the only one) gets to speak twice.

Kerry McCarthy was next, with a good speech, she came across well with a self-deprecating sense of humour. No to fracking, no to fox hunting, no to the unscientific badger cull (stop killing unscientific badgers!). She is a Vegan but she still eats food. Labour stands for economically viable, environmentally sustainable energy. Clear air. This Tory government is no friend of rural areas. We must tackling food poverty, food waste and food fraud (i.e. horse meat).

Lillian Greenwood, transport. Memorable mainly for her enormous purple brooch which kind of messed with my sense of scale. Transport privatisation has been a failure, resulting in expensive fares, worsening services and greater subsidies. Public ownership is the answer – and will lead to affordable fares for all. She is pro-HS2 if it is owned and run in the public sector. We shall fight the privatisation of Network Rail every step of the way.

The next speech... well, I thought all the speeches were great so far. But Jonathan Ashworth kind of let me down. His speech was on Taking The Fight To The Tories so I had big hopes that’s what it would be about. Instead it was about how awful the Tories are; I’ve already heard quite a lot about that and, to be honest, it’s very easy to write a speech about. He also said how awful the Lib-Dems were (but not the SNP or UKIP, who are also awful). And then, after a speech which, I’m afraid, didn’t even begin to address the topic of Taking The Fight To The Tories, he said ‘Let’s get to it’ and strode off.

I must confess, I may have involuntarily rolled my eyes a little. And then CLICK CLICK CLICK oh god there was a telephoto lens in my face as a journalist had sniffed out dissent. SMILE JONNY SMILE. I immediately tried to look happy, which isn’t easy because I have what is known as a Resting Miserable Bastard Face. But that was a warning for me. I resolved to be a shining example of enthusiasm from then on (and I was).

But it wasn’t my fault. If Jonathan Ashworth had taken the opportunity to make a speech on taking the fight to the Tories...  never mind.

Next was Jim McMahon from the local government... thing. We are pro-devolution because Labour is about giving power to the people but it should not become about local councils taking the blame for central government cuts. We must “change the country from the ground up”. And our duty is to represent all of it, even if it means we are in the front line and the ones making the cuts – because the alternative is that it’ll be the Tories making the cuts and they wouldn’t give a fig.

Alice Perry on Stronger Safer Communities gave the example of fans being given a say in the running of their favourite football club as a way that workers could be given a say in the running of their companies. Just make it like Lego is what I say. Lego are the model company. Quite literally in fact.

John Healey was next, on the housing we so desperately need. It is now a Top Priority for the Labour party. I’ve written the figure 360,000 down, either that’s how many houses down we are or how many we need to build (or both). He gave a good speech, I think, on the “cost of housing crisis”. We will oppose the extension of Right to Buy to Housing Associations. We have to think bigger, be bolder, change must be radical and credible (another of this conference’s slogans!) His council house building deal of 100,000 homes a year is good for tenants and taxpayers too, will make money. He mentioned the great stuff Labour did in its last year in office.

Next were the composite motion proposals. Housing in Oxford, we learned, is out of control, with closed bids for rents.

Jane Perry of Bectu not only said we should save the BBC from the Tories but from the venture capitalists at the BBC. The government has cut 20% of the BBC Budget (that’s nearly an armful). Services will close.

John Smith of the Musician’s Union said, but did not sing, that I second that a-motion. Made the point that BBC radio does not duplicate any commercial services. 75% of the tracks played on the BBC are not played on commercial services.

The next delegate was Martin Rees, prospective mayor of Bristol. As a West Country boy he has my support, and he gave a strong speech even if he did keep on going so long that people were preparing to throw stuff at him to get him off the stage. His main point was that we need a national commitment to devolution.

John Trickett, shadow secretary of communities made the point that we don’t want to go back to the 80s’, that’s what the Tories want to do! (You’d have to be mad to want to go back to the 80s, I lived through it and at no point was it anything like ‘Pride’).

After the morning’s conferences hall duties were over, I went off to another fringe meeting, wandering the hotel trying to work out why, after three days, no-one had yet blu-tacked any signs to the walls saying where the different function rooms are. But in the spirit of inclusivity and out of an appetite for change I thought I’d check out the CLASS meeting; they’re some sort left-wing think-tank. The meeting was chaired by that journalist who looks like Paul Morley.

Angela Rayner MP is convinced that winning the next election is “not a massive challenge” and now we have an opportunity to create the space to ask what sort of society do we want and what sort of economy do we want? (I didn’t know we had a choice so actually this is quite a fresh, exciting idea). She hoped that Jeremy’s speech would be about health, education and housing – council housing not “affordable” housing – and would include good policies on better social care.

Frances Ryan followed her saying that we have spent far too long being scared of rejecting Tory values, and then Tim Roach made the powerful point that without the right to strike we are all slaves. He lamented the fact that the past Labour government didn’t support striking workers but is delighted now that Jeremy Corbyn does. He explained how had tried to get a proposal for free parking spaces at hospitals added to our 2015 manifesto but had had it blocked by Ed Miliband’s special advisers. And then he proudly, bellicosely, stated that the Trade Unions had never abandoned Labour although Labour had abandoned them, and “Now it is our day!”

This wasn’t quite the spirit of inclusivity I had been looking for. I’m afraid, whenever someone over the past few days has said “At last, we’ve got our Labour party back”, my thought has been to reply “Thanks for the lend! Let us know next time you want to win an election.”

Roswyn Turner followed him by saying we need a clear plan on how we are going to win – people don’t need Labour’s sympathy, they need a Labour government, we need to hear a plan on how we are going to win over voters and people who didn’t vote. I COMPLETELY AGREED WITH HER.

Paul Morley summarised the meeting by saying that Labour had to start appealing to the self-employed, i.e. plumbers and plasterers  and that they had lots of ideas for winning the election in 2020. To be honest, from what I’d heard it sounded like their ideas would’ve been more applicable to the election in 2010. And I think maybe that’s the problem with Labour right now – our policies are not about winning over floating voters, or looking to the future, but us indulging ourselves with policies that we’d like to have had in the 2015, 2010 or even 1997 general elections. But we’ve got 4 years to come up with policies for 2020, and in the meantime we might as well have policies that are designed to gain support and enthuse existing support.

I returned to the main hall – they didn’t check my bag or my ticket, so much for security – and took my seat, CF6, close to the middle but slightly to the left to match my politics, 6 rows back. I saw myself on the big screen quite often, I don’t know if I turned up on telly. My mum says she saw me. Anyway, the hall I returned to was hubbubing with activity. Lots of important people talking on their phones. I checked my phone and there was no reception. Balconies filling up. People taking ‘selfies’. The atmosphere, I think, was calm. It wasn’t a knife-edge of excitement but I think everyone was feeling fairly cool that things would be okay. TV cameras were scanning the crowds, so I tried to express my inner happiness outwardly. The balconies were filling, stewards were slotting and shoving people into gaps. Some badly distorted music was playing, I recognised ‘You can get it if you really want’. Lots of people were wearing colourful clothes, Songs of Praise-style, to stand out on telly. I was wearing black in order to look less fat.

And then Jeremy came on and did his speech. It was on the telly, you don’t need me to tell you all about it. I don’t really think there was anything in it any Labour member could disagree with. I was kind of pleased that Jeremy was honest about Trident and also honest that he had kicked that issue into the long grass, never to be heard of again. I was surprised and delighted that he was wearing a tie (his only capitulation to the media commetariat!). I was delighted that he mentioned the self-employed after the work and pensions guy had forgotten us. And I was pleased that he didn’t apologise for Iraq because, whether or not you agree that he should apologise, or even has the right to, I don’t think it was the time or the place. I clapped pretty much everything he said, apart from the Iraq thing, because my conscience just won’t let me pretend that getting rid of a genocidal maniac like Saddam Hussein was a mistake. Jeremy mentioned that he had campaigned against Saddam. He was right to do so.

But on the whole I was happy to applaud Jeremy, out of respect to him and his achievement and the party and my fellow members. And because I didn’t want to appear on the telly as the only one not clapping! It was funny, though – or I found it funny – that at three or four times during his speech there were moments were there was applause, and one or two people stood up and looked around as though to say ‘Well, I thought that deserved a standing ovation, but I seem to be on my own here, maybe I should sit down?’ And then one or two more people stood up, and other people went ‘Well, if they’re standing up, I’m going to stand up too!’ And then other people went, ‘Well, now the people in front of me are standing up, I can’t see Jeremy, so I suppose I’d better stand up too’ and so on until the whole audience had, after a substantial interval of time, roused themselves to a standing ovation. So I’m sorry. We all stood at the beginning and at the end. But there were no whoops, there were no whistles, there were no moments when we all leaped to our feet as one. It was, like his speech, patient, polite, respectful. Not exciting, but it went well. He didn’t let us down, and we didn’t let him down, and at the moment that counts as a win.

In fact, we were incredibly well-behaved, loyal and united. Which I think proves one thing. In Labour, the moderates are not the trouble-makers. Supporters of Chuka, Liz and Tristram are just not the sort of people who are going to heckle someone in front of 1000 other Labour members. We just don’t have that lack of a sense of personal embarrassment. Moderates don’t do extreme things. And the people who used to heckle... well, now some of them are giving speeches.

Additional note: I was pleasantly surprised how relaxed and funny Jeremy was at the opening of his speech. He made a few stumbles but I think his dad-giving-a-speech-at-his-daughter's-wedding quality is part of his appeal, that he hasn't had his rough edges knocked off and doesn't talk as though he's already said the same words a hundred times.

After that it took me longer to get out of the hall than it had taken to get in. Several journalists were unsuccessfully badgering the crowd for anyone who hadn’t liked his speech. But, even as a total Tony-Blair-is-the-best-Prime-Minister-we’ve-ever-had believer, there wasn’t really anything in it that I was against. There were a few bits where I thought ‘That would be nice, I can’t see it happening, but it would be nice’ but nothing that I disagreed with (with the exception of the Iraq thing).

My next meeting was an hour on the future of internet campaigning. I won’t go into detail here but I took extensive notes (which is why I don’t want to write it up). Let’s just say – hampsterdance is the next big thing. You heard it here first.

My final meeting of the day was on 2020s Britain. Like every meeting I’ve been to during the conference it was packed out, people lining the walls, sitting on the floors. A quick run-down:

Stephen Kinnock – our 3 main challenges are purpose, patriotism and resilience.

Emma Reynolds – we need to take a fresh look at the role of the state, in places of work, what it should look like (my handwriting is very illegible here, she may not have said this).

Ivan Lewis – the mainstream majority of voters share our values, so if we’re clear about our values they will support us. But there is a problem with a negative perception of Labour. Middle class people think we are a threat to their financial security and economic prosperity. Working class people think we don’t stand up for them. Scottish people think we are part of the Westminster elite. They look at us and think it is “no time for novices”. We can only succeed by facing up to the tough problems our country will face, such as the fact that there will soon be more people in retirement than there are in work.

Lisa Nandy  - The people Labour was founded to represent  - mill workers etc - no longer exist. They no longer existed in 1979, never mind now. We have to represent the people of the UK as it is now. Tribal loyalties in terms of class and work have gone. Our position has been far away from the public’s view on immigration, welfare and the economy.

Most excitingly (for me, because this is something I feel strongly about) she said we should reach out to politicians from other parties and work together. Particularly the Greens, as there is significant policy overlap (IMHO in terms of policies Jeremy Corbyn is probably closer to Caroline Lucas than Natalie Bennett!). We should also reach out to the left-wing of the Lib Dems (not Nick Clegg, the nice ones). Unfortunately Lisa is not in favour of formal pacts, I should make it clear, she only advocates working together with individual politicians, not parties. But it’s a step in the right direction & one of the good things about Jeremy Corbyn becoming leader (I nearly typed 'a silver lining') is that it will hopefully make co-operation with the Green party more likely.

And then Ivan Lewis and Lisa Nandy brought the discussion to a close with a rather silly disagreement where they were talking at crossed purposes about the definition of ‘social mobility’. I think Lisa had a point, that it shouldn’t be about picking one or two poor people out of the crowd and saying ‘You can go to a better school’ while all the other kids are scrapheaped, but IMHO I think if you get social equality then social mobility will inevitably follow.


And that was Tuesday. 

Monday, 28 September 2015

Monday

Monday

Jeremy Corbyn has decoys. It’s an odd thing, wandering around the Labour party conference. Every now and then you think, hello, that’s Jeremy Corbyn over there. But then you look at again and discover that, no, it’s just another chap of a similar age with a similar beard and a similar dress sense. But there are a lot of them about. At least twenty. I would take photos but that would be intrusive, and we are gathered together in the spirit of inclusivity, not intrusitivity!

As well as spotting Jeremy Corbyn’s dopplegangers, I was also attending conference. First was Ellie Reeves delivering the report of Britain’s global role. She gave a brief history lesson on Britain receiving refugees, which included the people on the Windrush apparently. Then she went on the awfulness of the Tories. Then was Glenis Wilmot, who said the ‘yes’ campaign should concentrate on what would happen if we left the EU, how awful it would be, and we should add emotion to our argument.

Then there was Alan Johnson, beloved Labour veteran and occasional star of the best reason to scrap the license fee, This Week. If we leave EU, he said, then Scotland will leave the UK. The social dimension to the EU needs to be enhanced not diminished. We may have to use EU rights to fight the TU bill.

What I was hoping to hear was the answer to the question of what our counterargument is going to be to the ‘no’ argument. Because they are just going to repeat ad infinitum that hundreds of thousands of people are coming into the UK every year, stealing jobs, driving down wages, adding pressure to housing, schools and hospitals and so on, and that the only way to stop hundreds of thousands of people coming into the UK every year is to leave the EU. But there was no answer.

(I very nearly asked that. But weirdly I didn’t feel like being booed live on television by 1000 delegates. We are together in the spirit of inclusivity and unity! Plus I have no mandate to make an idiot of myself. So I held back. But I think we do have to have a better answer to the UKIP argument than calling anybody who repeats it a bigot or racist. We can’t just argue on the points that we like, we have to win the argument in the areas we don’t like too)

Maria Eagle reminded us of recent great achievements in Sierra Leone and saving refugees in the Mediterranean, even Afghanistan (some would regard that as a mistake, I wouldn’t). Europe is the centre of the world, we need to widen debate. She mentioned she was in favour of a nuclear deterrent but Jeremy had still asked her to be Shad Fo Sec.

Paul Kenny of the GMB was next, we have to be in Europe to protect workers rights, remember who Labour was founded to represent, the clue is in the name (pregnant women?)

(He was dead against sharing a platform with the CBI. I’m not convinced. If we’re making the argument that being in the EU is good for business why would we set ourselves up in opposition to the CBI? If they’re not sharing a platform with us they’ll be sharing a platform with David Cameron.)

Delegates reminded us this would not be a vote on Cameron’s ‘reforms’, we should campaign for a principled, unconditional unequivocal yes. There were no dissenting or even differently nuanced opinions (hence my own reluctance to poop the party).

Diane Abbott, also of everyone’s favourite Thursday night televisual trainwreck This Week, made it clear that outward-looking internationalism is at the heart of the Labour movement. Rather than inward-looking internationalism, presumably. She said she would like to ‘single out’ Yvette Cooper for her work on refugees which is an odd way of saying ‘thank’. She was against intervention in Syria because she does not approve of ill-fated military intervention, and she has clairvoyantly decided it will be ill-fated in advance. She’s not my favourite politician in the world, as you may have gathered, but she was strong on international development and improving the lives of women in poor countries, and more power to her for that.

Next was Hilary Benn, who was a powerful speaker with a very considered turn of phrase, where every word had been thought through. Re: Syria “Each death is a rebuke to the world’. He’s against boots on the ground intervention without a UN security council resolution (on past experience I’m sceptical that anyone will be left to save by the time the UN agrees to act) but he was emphatic that “This has got to stop”. And keen on a Palestinian state.

Jenny Formby was next, briefly saying that Jeremy Corbyn will solve everything, she didn’t go into details how.

Angela Eagle was next (there are two Eagles in the shadow cabinet). Most of her speech was more stuff about how awful the Tories are and how awful the TU bill is. We need a “race to the top” to improve the economy. She says Britain has been leading the world in a green economy (really? I mean, really? Compared to Germany or Sweden?) and says we should work with business but she didn’t go into details. And then her speed ended with “and that’s how we will win a race to the top!” as though she had just explained how.

There were then delegates on the various motions – John Hamett on how we must fight the extension of working hours on Sundays, workers must have a work-life balance – I think he made a very good point that opening for longer hours won’t mean people have more money to spend in shops, it won’t boost economy.

More delegates spoke against the TU bill. Len McCluskey growled that the “Mentality of a one-party state is creeping in” and then gave a VERY ANGRY POETRY RECITAL. I’m sure Emily Dickenson wrote her work to be bellowed in righteous, desk-stabbing fury.

As before, the delegates were all pretty much saying the same thing, no difference of opinion or even nuance. The most memorable moment was when Cathy Atherton got her wheelchair stuck and Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell gallantly leapt in to help.

Margaret Beckett gave a short speech on the stability and prosperity annual report. There were no graphs this time, alas, but she thanked Ed Balls for his hard work. Ed Balls! There’s a blast from the past. Bring back Ed Balls I say. He got a huge round of applause, mainly from me.

And then it was time for the speech of our shadow chancellor, John McDonnell. He began by saying he rejected austerity politics, and then asked, rhetorically, what does austerity mean. To my shame I couldn’t help thinking it means (c/o Wikipedia)

In economics, austerity is a set of policies with the aim of reducing government budget deficits. Austerity policies may include spending cuts, tax increases, or a mixture of both.

...but he went with the definition of the Conservative party and the right-wing media, that austerity is and only is spending cuts. And I’m afraid my confidence in him didn’t soar when he said we should ‘pay down the deficit’but I’m sure it was just a slip of the tongue.

Most of his speech was what you’d expect and which no-one would disagree with. A real living wage. Fairer more progressive taxation (fairer AND more progressive). Make multinationals pay their taxes! And – actually I thought this bit was brilliant – we should TEST our plans to make sure they work before implementing them. This is a breakthrough, I think. Politicians actually using the scientific method to find best practice rather than just following ideology and blind faith. So hooray for that.

He went on. We need a national investment bank. New forms of companies, mutualisation. We should review the remit of the bank of England to include other things besides inflation. HMRC needs to modernise and reduce avoidance (they could sort out their website too IMHO). We must have “pragmatic idealism” and – this was another good bit – he wants all the good people who left to come back.

I don’t know. I thought the bit about testing plans was fantastic. And asking good people to come back was also a lovely thing to say. The rest was kind of what you’d expect, for better or for worse. Though there was a weird bit where he said “We don’t need snappy slogans. We need straight talking and honest politics”, which is our snappy slogan.

After we broke for lunch I went off to the fringe for the European Parliamentary Labour Party and S & D Group in the European Parliament – A New Agenda for Social Europe: Building on the Past to Confront an Uncertain Future (capitalisation is the house style). I’d missed the beginning, because of John McDonnell, but it was an interesting ‘bonus feature’ for the earlier EU discussion. Cath Speight re-iterated Paul Kenny’s wish that Labour should not share a platform with the CBI (it’s not part of the motion fortunately) though Alan Johnson said, when asked, he’d be happy to share a platform with anybody who wasn’t trying to grind down the workers (I paraphrase). Mary Liddell of the Telegraph warned us to beware, that ‘yes’ in the referendum is not a foregone conclusion. Alan Johnson stressed we should face head-on the issue of sovereignty and he did thankfully explain how he’d argue against people saying too many people were coming into the country, by pointing out that being in the EU means we take less refugees than we otherwise would (because they can’t get from Calais to Dover) and if we were outside the EU there would be more immigrants coming from outside of Europe, not less. I’m afraid to say not only was I not convinced that argument would sway a UKIP supporter, I wasn’t convinced it would make sense to anyone who was paying attention. We should stay in the EU in order to keep out refugees? It’s topsy-turvy. We need a clearer message than that. And we can’t just pick and choose to argue on the points where we can win. We need a better answer or we will lose.

My next fringe meeting was about UK Music, an area of particular interest to me, not just for old times’ sake but because what applies to UK music applies to the rest of our creative industries. Michael Dugher, who knows how many string sections were on each Beatles record and how they got screwed with the Northern Songs deal (okay he got it slightly wrong but this is not a Beatles trivia competition). His points were that the creative industry is an INDUSTRY and should be treated as such, equal as other industries. We should defend the BBC, it makes a huge contribution to creative industries. Labour is for workers and artists, musicians and writers are WORKERS (Yes!)

James Heath from the BBC – BBC is largest investor in UK creative economy, tune of £2 billion, their focus is not on cutting back but on doing more for less.

A lady from the CBI (I’m sorry, I didn’t get her name) made point that there are new models, crowdfunding, digitisation, consumers more willing to pay for content, creative industry sector is growing by 10% a year (that’s just my Big Finish work TBH) and worth £77 billion (okay maybe not). It is a huge ‘soft power’ influence of UK elsewhere in world.

John Kampfner of the Creative Industries Foundation asked 'How come the fastest-growing sector of UK economy struggles to get its collective voice heard?' It is all that people associate with Britain. When David Cameron went to China he met a Chinese student whose first question to the Prime Minister was ‘when will there be a new series of Sherlock?’ (Because in China they’d lock Moffat up if he didn’t produce a dozen episodes a year. “Write more Sherlock or you never see your family again!”) He went on, we must diversify content to reach a wider audience. One in 11 jobs in UK are in the creative industries. Including me.

I was back in the main hall in time to hear the speech made by our shadow Work and Pensions secretary, Owen Smith. He stressed that those two words, Work and Pensions, would be the words that would lead us back into power. So it was kind of strange that after that, for the whole of his speech, he never mentioned Pensions again. If it was down to me they’d be line one page one of our manifesto (because old people VOTE), but Owen had other stuff to talk about. A “new generation” of Labour. A list of different types of workers Labour represents (no creative industries, no freelancers). More stuff on how the Tories are awful. How Labour will introduce a Proper Living Wage (my capitalisation). And how Labour will build the housing we so desperately need.

That’s another catchphrase that’s entered the lexicon along with spirit of inclusivity and appetite for change. If ever you mention housing it’s the housing we so desperately need. I’ve heard it so many times the next time I play Monopoly I’ll be asking for the housing I so desperately need. I mean, it’s true, it is housing we so desperately need, but once you make it a catchphrase it starts losing its meaning (see: aspirational hardworking families). Excuse me, I'll just have another glass of the wine I so desperately need.

I wish he’d said more (anything) about pensions and not bothered with the dumb jokes. We need to “smash the Tory welfare trap”.

After him was Michael Dugher, giving his speech proper to the main hall (the previous thing was a fringe event). After a round up of recent sport things (lost on me) he moved on to the Tories cutting arts council budgets and council arts budgets when we need sustained investment in arts, culture and ‘grassroots sport’. IMHO sport can look after itself, it has loads of money, but I realise that’s my own personal prejudice for getting picked last for games in 1985 rearing its grudgemental head.

He went on. We need a fundamental rethink to tackle regional disparities and we need more fairness in funding. He’s launching a review, a new plan for publically funded arts and culture.

And the Tories are a “clear and present danger” to the BBC. Narrowing its remit. Cutting it down. Attacking the principle of public sector broadcasting. When £1 of license fee money becomes £2 added to economy.

On the one hand, I loved this. I agree with him totally. I support the BBC and I think if Labour is for anything it is for campaigning for the BBC. But on the other hand, I couldn’t help thinking that the more Labour campaigns for the BBC, the more it will convince Tories and the people who are against the BBC that they are right to think that the BBC is a ‘left-wing’ organisation and that they are right to attack it. But then again, they are already convinced of that 100% so I’m not sure anything that Labour could do could make any difference. Someone has to stand up for the BBC and I’m so glad that Labour are now 100% for it. Because the BBC is our CULTURE and it MAKES US LOADS OF MONEY and it MAKES US LOOK GOOD ABROAD and those are all things that we can’t get, and will never get, anywhere else. It’s another NHS.

After Michael it was time for the treasurer’s report. Keith Vaz warned everyone not to try to leave, he had already had all the doors locked. We learned that the Party while is back in the Red is no longer in the red (I can’t believe they didn’t make that joke, sitting duck) and will be re-opening its diversity fund and local campaigns fund.

Then there was discussion about a change to the rules of the NEC selection. I read the proposal, it made some sense but if you read it closely you could spot areas where it was open to abuse IMHO, so it had to be rejected. All the other proposals, mostly correcting typos in the rules, were passed unanimously. I was so tempted just to stick my hand up as a ‘no’, like shouting out when the vicar asks ‘is there any just cause or impediment?’ at a wedding but sanity prevailed.

After that, a quiet, intimate fringe meeting with Progress to see ideas being pitched about how Labour can help the self-employed – which by 2018 will be more people than are working in the public sector – and so the next time a Labour Works & Pensions secretary makes a speech he should include freelancers and sole traders. The discussion touched on copyright theft which is, of course, a personal axe that I like to grind, so I gave a very very abbreviated version of my 30-minute rant on how we should stop people ripping off our intellectual property, how the default should be that any work is OWNED and not in the public domain, and that anyone who sticks one of my books up on the internet should have their goolies chopped off (I didn’t get to the last bit but it was implied). Peter Kyle MP humoured me with a look of fear in his eyes.

And that was Monday. Tuesday is leader’s speech. Should be interesting, not just in terms of the speech but in terms of the atmosphere and surrounding brouhaha. In the words of a famous Brighton resident - Stay tuned!

That reminds me, I must have a ride on the J-NT bus.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Sunday

Sunday

What an exhausting day. As I type it’s 9pm, after a day crammed full of Labour. And there are three more days to come! This really sorts out the die-hards from the fly-by-night fair-weathers.

I’ll rattle through my notes as quickly as I can. Everything will be tidied up later.

The morning began with the delegate briefing, 9.30pm. No coffee but orange juice.  Our mission for the morning was to decide what contemporary motions should be debated. These are things which are topical, things that are a matter of emergency/urgency. I voted (in no particular order, you put crosses, not rankings) for the Refugee Crisis, Employment Rights, Housing and License Fee. I didn’t vote for Trident to be debated because, whether you are for it or against it, I’m not sure it’s sensible for us to potentially overturn 40-odd years of policy in the words of the immortal Tommy Cooper ‘just like that’ without properly considering all the consequences, not just in terms of defence, but in terms of the jobs that would be lost, our membership of NATO and so on.

After a brief queue, security, bag check and most terrifying of all, some revolving doors, I entered the Brighton Centre and had a quick mooch around. Lots of stalls, from everything from Friends of Israel to Friends of Palestine and everything inbetween. Some of the stalls had fairground games, mazes and crazy golf. I’m not sure how that raises awareness of Cancer Research but hey, I’ve just blogged about it so maybe it has. I searched in vain for freebies but if there were any they’d gone.

Conference was opened by Peter Kyle, MP for the bits of Brighton that Caroline Lucas isn’t MP of, welcoming us to the sunny town. Jim Kennedy was next (uncannily like The Fast Show’s Simon Day),the Chairman of the NEC.

While the speeches were being made, they were relayed onto two screens above (well, one big screen showing two images, left and right) while a signer appeared on two screens at the far left and far right. He looked a bit like the famous Stephen Twigg, but I suspect it was not him. My allocated seat is bang in the middle, 6 rows back. So if anyone is getting on telly it will probably be me.

Jeremy Corbyn was on stage too, of course, no tie, slightly crumpled suit. The slogan is Straight Talking: Honest Politics which is very no-nonsense if a little bit like something a Bad Cop would say.

Next, according to my notes, Harry Donaldson welcome the 11,000 attendees to the conference and explained the rules which I have already forgotten. There was then some discussion about contemporary motions that hadn’t made the list, so the people who had submitted them had a chance to make their case. Even this early it was interesting, I think, that people are using the phrases that Labour has a spirit of inclusivity and that there is a real appetite for change as ways of making their case i.e. ‘In the spirit of inclusivity, I think I should have a biscuit, out of a real appetite for change’.

I’m sure the people who were making cases had valid points but my feeling was to just get on with it. There was a mildly disconsolate atmosphere in the hall – a lady shouted, pointing out that having six men on stage and one woman was not a great look (the arrival of Margaret Beckett, Mary Turner and Angela Eagle later changed the dynamic) and the vote on the motions was so close that it had to go cards (these things can look different from where you’re sitting in the hall, I imagine). There were one or two rumblings until it was decided to do a card vote.

Then there was a minute’s silence in respect of fallen comrades and various members received awards for distinguished service.

Ian McNicol then came on with two questions. Why did we lose and how can we win again? Two very good questions; all we need to do now is answer them.

Margaret Beckett then reported the preliminary findings of the commission/taskforce/hit squad findings on the reasons for Labour’s defeat. ‘Learning the lessons’. At this stage, there  were some graphs. The conclusions will follow.

Mary Turner then gave a short speech on the awfulness of what the Tories are doing, followed by contributions from delegates, and Angela Eagle on Making Policy Better and making the policy-making process more effective. Because clearly if we end up with policies engraved on a random obelisk in the final week of an election we could probably do better.

Lunchtime! Except I had no lunch. Instead I attended the Southern Policy Centre’s fringe meeting about Southern Powerhouses, hosted by Professor John Denham of Winchester University. It was all about the ‘policy challenges’ in the area including Hampshire, Kent, the Isle of Wight etc.

(note: if you are not interested in Southern Powerhouses, please skip to next brackets)

Points of interest: in SE inequalities are greater than possibly anywhere else due to high housing and commuting costs. In Winchester a child as a 4/5 chance of going to university, whereas elsewhere in the region it’s 1/5. The other speakers were – apologies if I’m misreading my notes – Annalise Dodds, Simon Letts, Ed Turner, Emma Reynolds.

Simon Letts: England last remnant of British empire. Pro-devolution. Some of Labour’s strongest leaders are in local government. Devolution is Tory attempting to impose their brand on N England, make local councils take the blame for government cuts, but it can also lead to better policy making. Hampshire/IOW have prepared a prospectus/pitch for devolved powers.

Hampshire/IOW is a net contrubitor to the exchequer. Devolution would give us ability to possibly build affordable housing, to take over work programmes, transport, health and social care, but no-one is quite sure how the last one of those will actually work.

Annalise Dodds: Inequalities greatest in SE, people relying on housing benefit because of high rents. Also most internationalist population (in some areas more than others obviously) with businesses more likely to trade with Europe. But we also have more need for infrastructure, particularly linking Southampton to Portsmouth and along the south coast. Problem with LEPs (Local Enterprise Parternships) not well-organised, uncoordinated, fragmented system.

 Areas of particular local relevance: Transport, housing, migration and welfare.

Steve Reid: Northern powerhouses taking credit for work of Labour councils who are driving change. Tory plan to use devolution to pass blame for cuts. Politicians not trusted – answer is for politicians to trust public more, two-way-street, trust the public and they will trust us. Devolution good in terms that central government will let go of power, particularly ring-fencing how much councils can actually do, and maybe they can bypass central government dictat to sell off council/housing association housing. Housing crisis is worse in Tory areas. Elected mayor probably inevitable/compulsory consequence of devolution.

Ed Turner from Oxford. Warns that devolution can be used by Tory councils to cut social housing, care costs. In Oxford recruitment is a problem due to high cost of housing. Benefit caps = social cleansing.

Emma Reynolds – in SE housing costs so much more than elsewhere in UK so hardship of those on low wages greater than areas where housing is cheaper. Suspects devolution will get forgotten by Tories for SE, they’ll do Cornwall and think they’ve done it. Collapse in Libdem vote an opportunity for Labour in SE.

Southern Policy Centre aware of issue of ring of towns with below average incomes all along coast.

(welcome back)

Sunday afternoon. Back in the main hall for speeches on Better Politics and reports on Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. But first a tribute to Harriet Harman, first with a video and then a speech from Angela Eagle.

Now, I don’t know if I’m speaking out of line here, but by this point I was beginning to notice something odd. When discussing the great achievements of the last Labour government, it was always ‘Labour’ that achieved it. Or Harriet. Curiously, Keir Hardie, Nye Bevan and Clement Attlee all got namechecked fairly frequently in speeches, and yet no-one seemed prepared to even utter the dreaded words Tony Blair or Gordon Brown. (And as for all our other ministers who served during the first decade of this century, forget it!) It just struck me as curious, that all the things that were achieved during Tony Blair’s time as prime minister were somehow done despite him or without his involvement, rather than being the direct result of him winning three elections so that things like the minimum wage and sure start and tax credits could become a reality. If an alien had landed in the conference it would think Harriet Harman had been our leader from 1994-2010.

Back to Better Politics. Johanna Baxter talked about how awful the Tories are, that they intend to ‘cripple all opposition’, but she felt there was an appetite for change in a spirit of inclusivity. We need to increase our depth of engagement.

Then John Lyons TD of Ireland gave a rather good speech on gay equality in Ireland, glad to know things are getting better somewhere. Mandy Telford followed, making a heartfelt speech but in my notes it says ‘not much new TBH’. The emphasis right now is on voter registration and the problem of boundary review, which is frustrating IMHO as the real issue is electoral reform, not complaining because our current ridiculously unfair system is being stacked against us. But that’s just my view.

If I read my handwriting correctly there was a motion for all-women shortlists to apply to all elections including by-elections, with more transparency.

Next was Kate Green... who... was... not... the... most... natural... speak...er... in the world...you have... ev...er heard. I’ve heard faster séances.

But then there was Gloria De Piero, a name familiar to everyone’s email inboxes. Now, I don’t want to be unkind, but in my notes I’ve written OH MY GOD SHE’S TRYING TO BE FUNNY. She had the forced gung-ho jollity of a make-up sales rep crossed with Gracie Fields about to roll up her sleeves and lead the factory workers in a bare-elbowed singalong of Sing As We Go. Her main point was that Jeremy’s leadership has inspired lots of young people to join, which is great if that’s the case (because there were conspicuously few in the audience).

Next was Ian Murray (my notes say Scottish MP looks like Peter Kay) who mentioned Gordon Brown in passing. He was followed by Kezia Dugdale who was introduced with a short film of her being interviewed by Labour’s next intake of Scottish MPs. I’m being mean. She was really very, very good. And she even mentioned Tony Blair! Admittedly in terms of saying Scottish Labour now had the most members it’s had since Tony Blair was Prime Minister, but at least she said the dreaded words.

She was a genuinely great speaker, I thought, and will do great things in Scotland. Then there was another video about Wales, in which Jeremy Corbyn explained that his plan is to invest in the economy. It sounds a bit tautologous so I look forward to finding out what it actually means.

The next speaker was Nia Griffith who had an extraordinary ability to make good news sound like bad news. She listed Labour’s achievements in Wales like they were a series of disasters. But at least she, like Kezia, re-affirmed their commitment to the UK staying in the EU (Jeremy applauded Kezia).

By this stage, by the way, the pig jokes were wearing thin. I think every pig joke had been made on twitter by approximately 3 minutes after the news first came out. I’m not entirely sure that just using words to do with pigs even counts as a joke.

The next speaker was Carwyn Jones who was great, I think, and made good news sound like GREAT news which is what you want. A bit like Gus from Drop the Dead Donkey. He mentioned that Doctor Who being made in Cardiff has sparked Wales’ cultural renaissance, which is demonstrably true.

Next was Vernon Coaker from Northern Ireland (my notes say ‘Big Vern’) who was tough and no-nonsense, which is what you want for Northern Ireland. He was followed by Emily Brothers who gave a wonderful, funny and moving speech about her treatment by the Murdoch press.

And finally was Chris Bryant, who should still be shadow Culture secretary because he was bloody good at that. He gave a very good speech, my notes say ‘strong appeal to honesty’, mostly about how awful the Tories are, vote-rigging scare-mongers, with democracy itself under threat.

But mostly excitingly for me – see previous blogs – was that he mentioned a plan. Not an election strategy, but a short-term plan to FIGHT the government in the commons, because they only have a tiny majority (I wish people said this more than going on about how terrible our defeat supposedly was), that we should combine forces with other parties and Conservative rebels, that we should fight the Conservatives in the Lords – and that we should be proud of the achievements of the previous Labour government. Okay, so he lost momentum when it became a history lesson about Ragged Trousered Philanthropists but at least he showed a bit of passion. Maybe he could be our next leader!

After that I grabbed some food and headed to the cinema for the meeting of Progress. Which was completely different. A much younger audience, for a start – I’d say about half the people there were under 25. An informal, friendly atmosphere.  Peter Kyle introduced the ‘rally’, the idea being that each person would have about 4 minutes to talk.

And it was great. Suddenly the speakers were being informal and showing their personalities and, in some cases, their senses of humour. It kept things moving, it didn’t get boring, it was interesting and thought-provoking but fresh, and, you know, inspiring. I felt like I belonged, that this was my Labour party at last! It was great fun. If the whole conference was run on the same basis... oh, we’d win, we really would. Because the moment our politicians stop ACTING like politicians they’re actually bloody good!

They got through a lot of speakers. Here’s the highlights, that I can make out from my notes (it was dark and very fast!)

John Woodcock – we must be credible radical left, Keep fighting!

Kezia Dugdale – much better speech than in the main hall – Labour must not retreat into comfort zone. We should offer something different. The SNP are NOT left-wing. Learn from mistakes of referendum, make case for Europe. Nothing is inevitable.

Chuku Ummunua – Labour is broad church but with same values, there is nothing glorious about opposition for oppositions’ sake, don’t do down the last Labour government (big cheer!), Labour should have a better connection with members when in office, we should harness energy of new members.

Tristram  Hunt – who knew Tristram Hunt was funny? He was great. Miles away from his stilted performances on Question Time. He actually had a funny joke about the pig thing. Also, Corbyn has tapped into populist current, discontent, this is a wake-up call for Labour to reboot, debate is not the same as division, Jeremy wants debate so let’s give it to him, we can only win from the centre.

Mary Creagh – the challenge of change, we must honour our record of government, our two priorities should be Europe and refugees.

Andy Burnham – Rather wonderfully he started by thanking everyone for their third preferences. Corbyn’s win means Labour has to change its style (I was going to shout ‘Bingo’ if he said Westminster Bubble) but ‘we gotta be electable’ and – regarding Tony Blair’s interventions – ‘we have lost the plot if we don’t listen to the man who won three elections’ (I’m paraphrasing, these are NOT exact quotes, just to be clear). Another very big cheer. Politics is not about making ourselves feel good or taking the moral high ground. We must make ‘the radical electable’.

Ivan Lewis – No thanks Tim Farron, we live in Labour, we’ll die in Labour. (Not quite sure that’s what he said, sounds odd reading my notes back). We can only win if we’re trusted on money. TONY BLAIR WAS A GREAT PRIME MINSITER. Now they’re all doing it!

Eddie Izzard – I’ve been to France, doing a show in French. Britain doesn’t run away, we can’t run away from Europe. We have to make Europe work because if we can’t get Europe to work then what hope does the rest of the world have. We have to make it work to show rest of the world it can be done.

Lucy Powell – Decided to make more of a difference inside the tent. Jeremy has tapped into something. Politics is broken (another catchphrase of the day).

Vaughan Gething - He was also proud of Tony Blair (hooray!) and the biggest betrayal of the people we want to help would be for the party to get itself in the position where it can’t win.

Heidi Alexander – Said yes to Shadow Health job because it was the right thing for the party (and she’ll be very good at it). There is no room on the left for two left-wing parties. Maturity and unity!

Peter John – Proud of Tony Blair AND Gordon Brown. We should also be proud of what we are doing in local government right now.

Mandy Telford – an even more heartfelt speech than earlier in the day. ‘Angry left-wing feminist’. End to all-male platforms!

Emma Reynolds – We lost the election because we were the risk and the Tories were the safer bet. We must have economy credibility and a passion for power!

Stella Creasy – Three points! We must have a sense of purpose to inspire. A positive view of the world to come (embrace creativity). And we need new systems of ideas, mutualising things etc.

John Hannett – An AVID SUPPORTER OF NEW LABOUR. Yes, he even used the words ‘New Labour’. Why did we lose? Because we were too quick to demonize our own record. And because we tried to cherry-pick areas that were easy for us, we didn’t have policies on the hard stuff. It is the responsibility of the Labour leader to talk like a Prime Minister and to talk to the whole country.

Caroline Flint – If people think all parties are the same it’s because we haven’t talked about our achievements enough and because what was once radical has become mainstream. We have avoided difficult conversation for too long. This is our Labour party and we’re not going anywhere.

A sentiment echoed by the undoubted star of the evening...

Liz Kendall (wild applause and standing ovation) – Progress is vital as a source of new ideas, needed now more than ever. Turbulent years ahead for country, property price bubble etc. We must be serious about winning the next election, with a positive outgoing vision. Widening the gap between our party and the views of the public is wrong way to go. We need to be radical and credible. (Another recurring phrase)

Amazing, eh? All those people, all those points of view, in just over an hour. Bang bang bang! If we did the whole conference the same way I’d be on a train home by now.

11pm. Time for bed. More tomorrow!

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Saturday

The conference hasn't yet begun but I've already been in the same room as Jeremy Corbyn and Tom Watson. They came to the meeting of the South East Delegates, an introductory soiree sponsored by our comrades at Microsoft (I always used Windows Media Player, iTunes is rubbish) who provided free wine and nibbles. The other speakers were Peter Kyle MP and Fiona MacTaggart, who both wholesomely thanked all the candidates at the election, particularly the unsuccessful ones. Fiona also welcomed any new members who were present (there weren't many - unsurprising, given that you have to have been a member for a year to attend conference).

Jeremy and Tom both spoke very briefly, as this was the sixth or seventh such meeting in the evening for them with six or seven more on the horizon. Tom announced that Labour now has 50,000 more members which is a cause for celebration. Jeremy made three points. That local Labour parties should be nice to those new members, to be inclusive and to go out of way to make them feel welcome. Secondly, he recounted his own personal experience of the leadership campaign, with over-filled venues up and down the country. And thirdly, he emphasized his opposition to the current Trade Union bill, making the point that it was an attack on all workers, not just those in trade unions, and that after the Trade Unions that Human Rights will follow 'and who knows what it will be next'. He didn't speak for long but I found him an unassuming, natural speaker, talking patiently with no rhetorical flourishes.

I chatted with various local delegates, comparing notes on the exciting events of the last few months, and look forward to the conference beginning properly tomorrow.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Searchin'

Exclusive! A deleted scene from last night's Doctor Who: The Magician's Apprentice!



EXT. DELTA MAGNA. NIGHT.

The SWAMPIE ritual is in full flow. There are twenty of them, jogging on the spot, waving spears, thumping chests. Blazing torches.

SWAMPIES:
(ENERGETIC CHANT) Kroll! Kroll! Kroll! Kroll!

VOICE:
(EMBARRASSED COUGH)

SWAMPIES halt, mid-chant, and turn to see COLONY SARFF gliding towards them like one of the Gentlemen out of Buffy. He halts.

The SWAMPIES stare at him in astonishment.

SARFF:
Where... is... the... Doctor?

SWAMPIES look at each other, then back to SARFF.

SARFF:
Where... is... the... Doctor?

SWAMPIES shake their heads, shrug. 


SWAMPIE LEADER:
No idea, sorry.

SARFF narrows his eyes.

SARFF:
Are... you... sure... about that?

SWAMPIE LEADER:
Yep.

SARFF:
You’re... not... lying to me, by any chance, are you?

SWAMPIE LEADER:
Nope.
 
SWAMPIES try to avoid SARFF’s gaze. They glance around. One of them picks his fingernails. Another silently whistles. Another pretends to check his watch even though he isn’t wearing a watch.

SWAMPIE LEADER:
We haven’t seen him for ages. Sorry.


SARFF:
Can... you.. take a message?

The SWAMPIE LEADER shakes his head.

SARFF:
(WEARY SIGH) Fine. Fine. I can see I’m wasting my time here.

SARFF takes out a small clipboard and ticks off a name on a list.

SARFF:
(TO HIMSELF) ...Delta... Mag...na. Right... what’s next? Atrios. Right. Atrios.

SARFF revolves on the spot and heads off. The SWAMPIES resume their chant.

SWAMPIES:
Kroll! Kroll! Kroll!

SARFF:
(EMBARRASSED COUGH)

The SWAMPIES halt, to see SARFF has only moved about one yard.

SARFF:
Sorry. My Segway’s got stuck. Would one of you mind giving me a push?

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

The Plan

Another blog on politics.


The Beatles’ song Revolution has been going around my head. “You say you got a real solution. Well, you know, we’d all love to see the plan”. And that’s where I am right now. Jeremy Corbyn’s our new leader, he’s going to be our candidate for Prime Minister in the next general election, so I want to see the plan. I’m going to the Labour conference later this month, and I that’s the one thing I’ll be looking for. I’m not particularly interested in a history lesson about the achievements of Labour leaders who died before I was born. I don’t need reminding why the Conservatives are dreadful. I don’t need to hear a lecture on why equality of opportunity and redistribution of wealth are good things. I’m not particularly interesting in hearing policies. What I want to hear, and to be excited and to be wholeheartedly convinced about, is the plan. What I want to know, in specific detail, is how we are going to get from where we are now to having a Labour majority in 2020.

The other thing that has sprung to mind is an old South Park episode about Underpant Gnomes. The story, as much as I remember of it, is about some gnomes that go around stealing underpants for no readily explicable reason. At the end of the episode we finally get to see the Underpant Gnomes’ business plan, which is this:

Phase 1: Collect underpants.
Phase 2: ?
Phase 3: Profit.


Similarly, I think the Labour party currently has a big blank space at phase 2, between ‘Elect Corbyn’ and ‘Win General Election’. I’ve gone in search of answers, I’ve read blogs, like this one about how Labour will “harness the power of a populist, social democratic movement”. Well, great. I’m all in favour of that! Lots of enthused new members fundraising and campaigning, brilliant, that’s a dream come true. But that’s not an actual plan, that’s not a dotted line leading us from where we are now to where we have to be in five years’ time.

What I want to hear, and be convinced by, is how Labour is going to get the votes of people who voted Green, UKIP, Liberal Democrat, SNP, Plaid Cymru or Conservative at the last General Election. It’s great that we’re going after people who have never voted before, that is a very good thing and should definitely be part of the plan, but a cursory look at the figures means it won’t be enough to deliver a Labour majority. So what are we going to say to convince people who voted for the SNP and Plaid Cymru – that they should vote for an even more left-wing party even if it means they won’t get independence? What are we going to say to people who believe that businesses exploiting cheap immigrant labour are undercutting their wages and working conditions – are we just going to tell them that they’re foolish and wrong and that immigration is always inalienably a good thing? What about the couple where both parents are working but who decide not to have more than one child because they can’t afford it – while the state is giving another family who don’t work more money than they would get by working to pay for children they can’t afford to look after? Do we tell them that they are foolish and wrong too? What do we say to people who think that Labour messed up the economy by borrowing too much – how do we explain to them that our new policy is to borrow even more than we were doing back then? And after that, how do we stop them laughing?

I look forward to Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters providing the answers. Because here is where I come to the point of this blog. Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters have a fantastic opportunity to practise first. Before they can start persuading Lib Dem and Conservative voters, they have to persuade people like me, on the moderate wing of the Labour party. We should be the easy ones! We agree on the same goals, after all. We’re open to argument (well, I am). Before you can convince people who have voted for other parties, you need to convince the rest of your party first.

Now I suspect some people reading this will think ‘Excuse me, Jonny, but Jeremy Corbyn has a great big massive mandate, you should fall in line and give him your wholehearted support’. Just, no doubt, as they would have done had Yvette or Liz become leader. Well, it doesn’t work like that. Jeremy has demonstrated better than any other MP that Labour is a broad church that allows for differing opinions and does not expect nor encourage blind, uncritical loyalty. So I’m afraid just saying ‘You should support Jeremy or leave’ is not going to convince me of his virtues.

But, sadly, that seems to be the mood music of some of Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters. Rather than being magnanimous and inclusive in victory they are triumphalistic, hectoring, dismissive. Bullying. Abusive. And I’m afraid that taking that approach isn’t going to help convince me they are right. Threatening to have MPs ‘purged’ and telling the candidates that I supported that they should ‘Go and join the Tories’ does not make me feel like I am wanted either.

I mean, imagine if that was our campaign slogan at the next election. ‘Vote Labour – or go and join the Tories!’ How many floating voters would that win over? People who voted for Jeremy say they want a new, nicer kind of politics. Well, that means engaging with people who don’t entirely agree with you (but who do agree with you quite a lot!). As I said, you get to practise with other members of your own party before you go out into the cold, hard world and start trying to convince people who voted for other parties. They’re the really difficult ones. But if you can’t win us over – if you’re not interested in even trying to win us over – then you have no chance with anybody else.

So go on, Jeremy. Convince me. Tell me the plan.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

The Winner Takes It All

As I’m attending the Labour conference in a couple of weeks time, I observed the reveal of the identity of the star attraction with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. I’ve made it no secret that he was not my preferred candidate and my attitude now is, go on, prove me wrong. Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters vociferously believe he is the person best-equipped to return Labour to power... well, let's hope he doesn't disappoint them.


I think we’ll know soon enough whether or not the members of the Labour party have made the right choice. Jeremy received nearly 90,000 votes from £3 registered supporters... now that he’s the leader, I hope they’ll all now be willing to stump up the £3.88 to become full members. And I hope they’ll turn up for their local party meetings, and knock on doors, and if they’re wealthy enough, that they’ll donate money. And after that, if Jeremy’s supporters are correct, then we should soon see some improvement in Labour’s standing in the opinion polls, and Labour will gain seats in by-elections and get more seats in next year’s European and local elections. Because if Labour is to win the next general election, it has to start winning now.

I confess I’m a little cynical about this. My feeling from reading twitter is that Jeremy’s supporters think that by having paid their £3 and cast their vote they’ve done their bit and they have no intention of actually joining Labour or campaigning for it; they think that making sarcastic tweets during BBC Question Time counts as political activism and expect other people to do the hard work. They’re the ones currently crowing that Corbyn’s victory means the death of New Labour (you know, those scoundrels who built all those hospitals and passed the Human Rights Act). But I hope I’m wrong and if Jeremy’s supporters become full members, if Jeremy performs well on TV and in the House of Commons, if he can unite the party behind him, and if he can translate his support into a dramatic improvement in Labour’s fortunes, then he has my support, 100%.

And if not... well, I was at the first hustings for the Fabian society, where all of the candidates unequivocally guaranteed that if turned out they were an electoral liability, if their leadership did not deliver results, then they would step down with immediate effect. Jeremy was the most emphatic of the five candidates in making this promise and I have no doubt that he is a man of his word.

One last thought on the leadership election. While Yvette Cooper did suddenly improve in the last couple of weeks in the campaign, I think she and Andy Burnham both suffered from essentially offering more of the same with a few tweaks, while Liz Kendall – while being largely right about what Labour has to do to win – was frustratingly weak on details and policy; yes, Labour should be pro-business, but how, exactly? All three candidates could’ve done with some big, memorable ideas – something for supporters to rally behind – but instead they seemed to only offer small, timid, forgettable ideas. Whereas Jeremy Corbyn was full of ideas, some of which are good, some of which are bad, and hopefully he’ll have people to help him tell them apart from now on.

Speaking of which, in terms of the deputy... I’m sure Tom Watson will be fine. The only reason I didn’t vote for him is because he’s been doing such a great job uncovering scandals that I kind of don’t want him to get sidetracked from that.

But even though I didn’t get my first choice for leader(or my second choice, or my third choice) as long as there are good people in the Labour party, people like Liz Kendall, Yvette Cooper, Alan Johnson, Chuka Umunna and Dan Jarvis, and as long as it honours the fantastic legacy of people like Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Mo Mowlam, then I’m not going anywhere.

Anyway, after the great announcement, in my capacity as Winchester and Chandler’s Ford Labour Party’s delegate to the Labour conference I attended a pre-conference briefing on what to expect. As I’ll be attending as a delegate my job will be to represent the views of the local Labour party; in regard to Jeremy Corbyn, I gauge their attitude as being ‘cautiously positive’ and so that is the opinion I will go in with. As I haven’t been mandated by the local party to speak on any motions I can’t do that (although I’d be happy to) and again, my votes and any public statements I make will reflect the views of Winchester and Chandler’s Ford Labour Party rather than my own - I intend to write a blog each day on the day’s events, so will try to avoid expressing my own wacky opinions. Similarly, for the duration of the conference, I will be upbeat and positive in my twitter activity; I have been advised to avoid tweeting when I am angry, drunk or not very awake, which is a pity as that's when I write my best material. And as I’ll be blogging every night, and sleeping on a friend’s sofa, drinking is not going to be an option anyway.

But that’s two weeks away. Up until then, all blogs and tweets remain my own deluded opinions and should be disregarded as such.