The Blog

Diary of a Labour Conference Virgin. Day 1

I'll cheat and start first with day 0, Saturday, when I first arrived in Brighton. First time in Brighton, first time in a Labour conference. The sun was shining, the sea was iridescent, looking like a close sister of a Greek island's sea front in the Aegean sea. All good omens about the Labour conference for a conference virgin...

I'll cheat and start first with day 0, Saturday, when I first arrived in Brighton. First time in Brighton, first time in a Labour conference. The sun was shining, the sea was iridescent, looking like a close sister of a Greek island's sea front in the Aegean sea. All good omens about the Labour conference for a conference virgin.

I'll stop waffling though and get to the point though which was that I shook the hand of "God" or as otherwise known as the Labour Leader, Jeremy, Jez, JC or however else you might call him. Jeremy as well as deputy leader Tom Watson, attended the South-East reception where I was invited to welcome us and say a few words.

First close up impressions were that Jeremy exhumes an air of calmness that was he the captain in Titanic, they would have avoided the iceberg and James Cameron would not have a Best Director Oscar today. JC and Tom spoke eloquently and wet the appetite for what is to come. To my greatest and gravest disappointment, I found out that to see Jeremy's speech you need a ticket! I do not have a ticket!

Cue in day 1. Armed with my Conference magazine, the booklet that is the go-to, one-stop, information thesaurus, the Wikipedia of the Labour conference, I left my nice Airbnb room in Hove at 8:50am and started making my way to the first fringe event at 9am, optimistic I could find transport to take me there, being in a location 45 minutes away from the conference, walking.

Little did I know that Sunday is a day of rest not just for Christians but for buses as well. Having missed my bus for 3 minutes, the next one was 27 minutes later. Being already late for the first event, I started walking. Finally managed to get on a bus and get to the first event at 9:30am. It was a delegates' briefing. I am not a delegate... At the end of it, I enquired about for a ticket to the Leader Speech but apparently they are all gone! Disappointed I made my way to the conference centre.

Upon entering the conference having bypassed the 50-people queue by accident, I entered into a world of stands. There are a lot of stands in the Labour conference. You can get enough freebie pens to last a year! No wonder Ryanair has a policy of not buying pens! I made my way to the conference theatre, chose a seat and waited for everything to begin. Then the panel came out. Jeremy was there! Tom Watson was there! Labour General Secretary Iain McNicol was there! A lot of other men were there! Where are the women there? Oh wait! One was there sitting by the side! Give the troublemakers some ammunition! Ignore the fact that later the was almost an all-woman panel bar one lonely man... Just complain about the all-male, all-white panel!

First part of the conference was ok. Jeremy gave out some awards and Iain McNicol made a welcome speech amongst others. Then we broke for lunch and it is where the bible that is the Conference Magazine comes to life. For the uninitiated like me (no pig required for initiations), there are dozens of fringe events happening. I read the magazine and identified a few of interest. Little did I know that all of them are at the same time! I chose one and I made my way to the first event, organised by Unite and the Daily Mirror. Thankfully there was some food there and after queuing up and stuffing my face in sandwiches and chips, I attended my first rally. I'll tell you this; If you have never seen Mark Steel live, you are missing a trick.

The best speech there though, was by Cherylee Houston, a disabled actress. If you thought that cutting benefits is a good idea or did not know much about it, you would either have watery eyes at the end of the speech or you are made out of stone. The excellent speech was followed by a barnstorming by Len McCluskey. Upbeat and energised, feeling like attending a conference where Labour won the election and not had the worst election result in decades, I made my way back to the conference. It is ridiculous how many interesting events exist all, of them at the same time. It is time someone figured out a way to manipulate the time-space continuum so I can attend more than one!

Back in the main conference, Angela Eagle delivered a heart-warming tribute to Harriet Harman. If you thought, Harriet did a poor job with the Welfare bill, you would have forgiven her following Angela's speech.

The best speech of day one was by John Lyons TD, a gay member of the Irish Labour Parliament, on Ireland's vote on gay marriage. It was a clear, unequivocal example that politics matters and makes a difference. Progressive politics can improve the lives of millions and Labour has the responsibility to bear that mantle.

Then I made my newbie conference mistake. I left the main conference to attend a training session. Not only was the training boring but it took 45 minutes to deliver a message on a number of slides that could be done in 5 minutes. According to fellow delegates, during that time where I might as well had been to the dentist's chair, I missed some excellent speeches. Then the evening fun and games began.

I went from meeting room to meeting room, from hotel to hotel attending events and eating free food. I heard Lucy Powell talks about schools whilst scoffing some really nice small burgers. I saw Owen Jones' back whilst he was talking to a packed out, small room. Went to a Fabian meeting where the mood reminded me of a wake where everyone's favourite uncle has just died and left all his money to his dog. Went to a Labourlist rally that lifted the spirits of everyone involved, where Tristam Hunt delivered a passionate speech that would be even better if he knew Brighton Hove had a delivered a Labour MP. Who knew historians can rouse crowds!

I finished my fringe diary having swollen feat and a slightly sweaty shirt at the EU event where I shook the hands of Alan Johnson, Anneliese Dodds and Hillary Benn. Benn's speech about us persuading the voters of the benefits of participating in the EU, gives confidence that Labour has started getting it, has started understanding that telling voters is not the way to go but they have to convince them!

Tired, I decided to start my 45-minute trek back to my room. The mood of day 1 was uplifting and everyone is starting to accept the new politics Jeremy is bringing, the great mandate the party gave him and what that includes. Unity and honest debate are seeping in and the Labour MPs start to accept the new status quo. Once again, the power comes from the base and there are bottom-up politics. Gone are the days of a centralised, top-down policy mandating elite. It bodes well for the future and makes me look forward to day 2.

I found out that the conference involves some crucial-decision making on which events to attend, a lot of running around, hundreds of people to talk to and a lot of free alcohol and food. Now if anyone had a spare ticket to the Leader's speech, that would be great!