Labour Conference 2012 – A Summary


So conference is over. I’ve been home for a weekend, eating at regular times and not rushing all around Manchester to various fringe events. I am very much into the “comedown” stage of post-conference life. So what were the highlights? I’ve had a few days’ distance to think about this, and I’ve begun to put together a bit of a “best of” list:

  • That speech. Yes, Ed Miliband’s leader’s speech. Undoubtedly the highlight of the week, and despite the scepticism of certain quarters, we could well see this as the turning point moment in his leadership. He was calm and confident, relaxed and likeable, and managed to do the whole thing without any notes. It was spectacular to behold.
  • The emergence of a clear theme for Labour, as we head towards the next election. “One Nation” is not a new idea, but it is coherent and effective, and a clear counterpoint to the fractured and divided society that the Tories’ are creating in done sort of cynical divide-and-conquer strategy. It’s the clearest and most optimistic idea I’ve heard from Ed, and addresses my prior criticisms of the “predistribution” idea by couching it in understandable language.
  • Meeting so many people who I have only known through a broadband connection. Around the converge in general, but also at the excellent Political Scrapbook tweetup. I don’t want to start listing names, as someone will doubtless get lost in the cloud which obscures my memory, but you are all awesome, and it was a particular joy to meet and endlessly discuss politics with Cllr Julian Ware-Lane. As For the tweetup, I remember as a particular highlight Tom Watson (yes, that Tom Watson) explaining to me the behind-the-scenes panicking at Labour HQ at the idea of Ed doing his speech without Autocue or notes. Apparently the scourge of Murdoch quelled the chaos, and told the Labour leader not to take any notice of it. Let Ed be Ed indeed.
  • The sense of optimism. The Guardian rather unfairly described the atmosphere as flat, but my presiding sense was one of optimism. Living in an almost homogeneously blue bloc in the south east is disheartening sometimes, but meeting and talking to so many activists with so many stories from all across the country was encouraging. I feel utterly reinvigorated.

So where now? Well, in the long term, 2015 and a Labour government. But in the immediate term, there’s a by-election in Pinkneys Green ward in a few weeks, and the Police and Crime Commissioner elections soon after. Let’s start there. I’ll look for you all on the campaign battle-lines, comrades.

Poster Boy for the Labour Party Conference


Or maybe not.

This photo, of yours truly holding up a plastic bag (from the USDAW exhibition stand) trying to get Ed Miliband’s attention in yesterday’s Q&A, is in today’s Times.

The actual article is a bit combative, calling Labour members’ support if Ed “a cult“, and accusing us of having “drunk the Kool-Aid“. Which is a bit rich, given the tendency of the Tory Party to deify Margaret Thatcher.

But it’s still nice to be noticed.

Heckling schoolgirls (or how one person ruined it for everyone)

It was all going so well — but of course someone had to do something to spoil it.

Last year a small contingent at the Labour conference heckled the mention of Tony Blair. This year they managed to go one step better, heckling a year 11 schoolgirl who was making a speech about her school: Paddington Academy.

I was there, in the hall, so I can comment on exactly what happened. Firstly, it was one person amongst the thousands attending conference. Secondly, the heckle was hostile to academies and supportive of comprehensive. Thirdly, the mood in the hall was overwhelmingly hostile to the heckler.

The academies scheme is contentious, as education policy goes, and a large part of that is the confusion between the academies scheme of the last Labour government and Michael Gove’s academies. The former was a radical solution to the worst failing schools. The latter is a sweeping policy to centralise education.

Paddington Academy is one of the first category (it replaced North Westminster Community School in 2006), and Joan Al-Assam’s speech should have been seen by the heckler for what it was: the complete turn-around of a failing school.

But this goes beyond policy. The fact is that this was a teenager, who stood up at a party conference and made an extremely eloquent speech to a teeming hall. I’ve already mentioned on this blog that I had been hoping to speak, and when I was trying to get the attention of the chair I was a jittering bag of nerves. I’m twenty two. I can only imagine what a fifteen/sixteen year old would be feeling.

But as I said, this was one person, and the feeling in the hall was one of hostility to the heckler. Ed Miliband has already condemned the remarks, and it seems pretty clear to me that this action, though disgusting, reflects only on that one person.

Not that it’s stopped Michael Gove from trying to capitalise on it. According to the Education Secretary, it “shows the real face of Labour“. He also thinks that “the culprit must be expelled from the party“.

Of course, since his party still permits membership for a a councillor who thought it was okay to joke about two police officers killed in the line of duty, the Nazi-partying MP Aidan Burley, and Andrew “learn your f**king place” Mitchell, I don’t think I’ll be taking any lectures from Mr Gove on this. Especially after he told the Leveson Inquiry:

Freedom of speech doesn’t mean anything unless some people are going to be offended some of the time.

And when Walter Wolfgang was ejected from the 2005 Labour conference, for heckling, David Cameron said that it:

lays bare the full absurdity of the Orwellian New Labour project


But Conservative hypocrisy doesn’t change the fact that heckling a teenage schoolgirl who has plucked up the courage to talk to conference, about what is a Labour government success story, is disgusting. It was a sour note on which to end the conference, it’s utterly unrepresentative of Labour Party attitude as a whole, and it’s given Michael Gove the opportunity to go on the attack.

Whoever you are, I hope you’re proud of yourself.

The Speech I Would Have Made at the Labour Conference

I had been hoping that I would get the opportunity to address the Labour Party conference this week. Sadly, lots of people want to do exactly the same, and I wasn’t called by the chair in either the economy or young people debates.

But I had written a speech, and it seems a shame to waste it, so I offer to you here — the speech I would have given to the 2012 Labour Party conference.

Conference, I’d like to take a moment to thank you for this opportunity to speak here today. In all the years I have watched conferences past, listened to delegates speak from this podium, I never imagined that I would be here myself one day.

And I certainly never imagined I would be here in the situation that I am. Conference, I have a confession to make: like a million other young people in this country, I am unemployed.

When I left university, I had such bright hopes. I had worked hard, gotten good grades, and graduated with a good degree from a reputable university. All my life I had grown up being told that if I did that, then the rewards would be waiting for me.

A year later, I have applied for over three hundred jobs, and what have I had in return? Rejection, rejection, rejection. Rejection from entry level jobs, rejection from supermarket positions. Rejections from office jobs, and even rejections from unpaid internships! I volunteer my time as an intern and as a Cub Scout Leader, but when I seek paid employment I find only doors shut in my face.

It’s an experience far too common across people my age, and a situation which is destroying lives and wasting talent. With hundreds competing for every vacancy, people are being rejected from entry-level positions and told they don’t have enough experience.

It’s bleak, it’s unfair, and it’s demoralising. The phrase “lost generation” has been thrown around a lot, but it’s not until you look in the mirror and realise that it means you that you really understand how horrific it is.

These young people like me, they are not unemployed because they want to be. They are not out of work because they aren’t trying hard enough. They are unemployed because there aren’t enough jobs, and because they have been abandoned by a government which was full of false promises, but has delivered for them nothing.

Labour’s response to youth unemployment was the future jobs fund. The Tories’ response is jobs for the boys. We are living in a world where young people have to be able to work unpaid for months in order to even have a shot, a world where what you know pales next to who you know, to who your parents know.

I ask you, conference, in 2012 how can it be that who you know still counts volumes more than what you know?

Conference, I count myself very lucky to have grown up under a Labour government. To my shame, I took it for granted, and when I watched David Cameron and Nick Clegg walking into Downing Street that shame propelled me to join up and stand up for my principles. I firmly believe that in 2015 we will see Ed Miliband as Prime Minister of this country, and conference I am counting down the days until the young people of this country, until all people of this One Nation can see their potential fulfilled in a bright and hopeful future.

Political Scrapbook Tweetup – Labour Conference 2012’s Premier Fringe Event

If you’re not going to be at the Political Scrapbook tweetup tonight, you’re going to need a very good excuse.

Despite what the conference magazine and app say, it is NOT at the Town Hall, but at the Sandinista Bar, from 7:30pm until everyone has staggered back to their hotel rooms.

Sadly, we have no new Scrapbook t-shirts, despite my suggestion of an “Andrew Mitchell called me a f**king pleb, and all I got was this f**king t-shirt” version.

We also have Tom Watson DJ-ing, and after his rendition of the Kaiser Chief’s “Ruby” at LabourLists fundraiser we can be sure it’ll be something to talk about! And if you see me there, come up and say hello! I don’t bite (much).

Letting Ed Be Ed

Yesterday morning I asked if Ed Miliband needed to show some anger in his conference speech that afternoon. I wasn’t the only one wondering, and there was both real pressure on the Labour leader, and a strong sense of expectation surrounding him. The party has been polling well, but a poll result released in the morning raised serious questions about Ed as a leader.

So, of all the times to pull out a barnstorming speech, yesterday was a very good time.

For over an hour Ed spoke about his vision for the future of both the Labour Party and the country. He was relaxed, he was confident, he was funny, and he was clear about his direction. I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve spoken to who are delighted that Ed has finally managed to come across in a public speech as eloquently, strongly and likably as he does in private.

In short, to quote an absurdly over-used cliche from the West Wing, he finally let Ed be Ed.

It was a long speech — made all the more impressive by the fact that he did it without notes or autocue — and he had the crowd responding to him naturally. Even down to the pantomime-esque call-and-response when he asked repeatedly whether the Tories could unite the country.

One of the early indicators of the speech’s success was the response of the right-wing press — even they couldn’t deny that Ed was pulling off an excellent piece of political performance.

At a Fabians panel in the evening even ConservativeHome editor — and human barometer for the Tory Party — Tim Montgomerie said that it had been a very good speech.

There was some discussion about whether Ed’s adoption of the traditionally conservative concept of One Nation constituted a move to the right, or a redefining of the political centre-ground. Certainly there was something reminiscent of Tony Blair about the way that Ed connected with such ease with the audience in the hall, and reached out to those who voted Tory in 2010.

(Of course, it’s worth noting that the perennially dissatisfied and embittered arch-Blairite Dan Hodges was still not happy, complaining that it didn’t contain enough policy. At the aforementioned Fabians panel, even Tim admitted that with two years before the next election it’s far too early to announce firm policy pledges. Constructive criticism is one thing, but criticism just for criticism’s sake? Can’t we leave that to the other side?)

Another notable aspect was the patriotism which coloured the whole speech through. From Ed’s account of his family history, to the Olympics and Paralympics success, there was a real sense of Ed taking on some of the traditional dominant grounds of the right.

It wasn’t the compete package. Ed won’t walk into Number 10 of the back of this speech. But it was a good platform, and sets the stage for him to make a real offer to the British people and a real challenge to the Tories. One of the best things about the speech was knowing that David Cameron was watching it, and tearing up his own conference speech — his doubtless-planned right-wing lurch would now fully vacate the political “sane” ground to Labour.

But I’ll finish with a direct quote from the speech (which you really should watch):

Who can come up to the task of rebuilding Britain? Friends, it falls to us, it falls to us, the Labour Party. As it has fallen to previous generations of Labour Party pioneers to leave our country a better place than we found it. Never to shrug our shoulders at injustice and say that is the way the world is. To come together, to join together, to work together as a country.

It’s not some impossible dream. We’ve heard it, we’ve seen it, we’ve felt it. That is my faith.

One nation: a country for all, with everyone playing their part. A Britain we rebuild together.

Does Ed Miliband Need to Get Angry?

Does Ed Miliband need to show some raw anger at the government to connect with the public, and win the 2015 election?

Despite the inconvenience, staying outside of Manchester for the Labour Party conference does have its advantages. Yesterday, heading into Deansgate on the train from Warrington Central, I got to overhear a couple of fellow passengers on the way to work, discussing the conference. In particular, they were talking about Ed Miliband.

Said one to the other, of the Labour leader:

He’s definitely getting much better… I quite like him. I think he’ll do it.

The other replied:

He’s getting better, but he needs to lose his rag a bit, he needs to get angry about what the Tories are doing.

Which played on my mind all day really. I completely understand what they mean, Ed has had a very rocky start to his leadership — though the post 1951 and post 1979 years tell a story of how explosive they could have been — and is only beginning to really pull his image into the Prime Minister he wants to become in 2015.

He’s a very thoughtful man, who doesn’t always come across that well on the TV screen, inviting comparisons with Clement Atlee — Winston Churchill allegedly said of the post-war PM “An empty taxi pulled up and Clement Atlee got out“. But Atlee founded the NHS and rebuilt Britain after the Second World War.

And anyway, in person Ed comes across quite differently.

Until yesterday, I had never met Ed. My first sight of him in the flesh was standing at the conference podium, introducing Professor Michael Sandel. For one thing, he was taller than I had expected, with a strong posture and a strange way of speaking which made you feel, even in a hall of thousands, that he was talking to you. That’s an important skill.

But of course it’s foolishness to suggest that as mitigation, because the simple truth is that even if he toured up and down the country from now until the general election, the entire population would never be able to have a one on one with him.

And it isn’t just the people catching the train to work in the morning who have noted the lack of anger. John Harris from the Guardian has described the conference atmosphere as “quiet, respectable and sedate“. Which seems a bit unfair to me. I would have said that it’s less an issue of a lack of anger, and more of realisation that Labour could not only get back into government, but maybe win a majority. It’s a quiet hope, that we’re almost holding our breaths in anticipation of, for fear that we could frighten it away.

But this afternoon sees Ed’s speech. I’ve been impressed with him so far this conference, and I think this could be where he starts to turn on the anger. If he does, and if he manages to communicate a sense of anger which resonates with the general public who are hurting under the cuts of a government who apparently think they should “learn their place“, then a Labour majority in 2015 will get that bit closer.

Breakfasting with Bloggers

This morning the Young Fabians held a “Bloggers’ Breakfast” discussion panel

So despite promising myself that I wasn’t going to go to any eye-wateringly early fringe meetings, 8:30 this morning found me at Manchester Town Hall for a “Bloggers’ Breakfast” discussion held by the Young Fabians.

The breakfast element was a touch disappointing (the coffee was gone by the time I arrived at quarter past eight — disgraceful!), though probably anything would be after the RSPCA curry last night.

Thankfully, the discussion didn’t disappoint.

The panel was chaired by Matt Zarb-Cousin, who may be known to some readers for a comment he made about the Queen a while back on Twitter. The panel featured Ellie O’Hagan, Grace Fletcher-Hackwood, Emma Burnell and Anthony Painter (the listing in the conference magazine said that Mark Ferguson, of LabourList fame, would be there, but that seems to have been an error).

As a somewhat keen blogger myself, both here and with Political Scrapbook, I was very interested to hear perspectives on political blogging — and as I say I wasn’t disappointed.

The treatment that female bloggers and writers receive has been somewhat well documented as late, and I am honestly lucky that as a man the worst I have to contend with is called an idiot — which I am, on occasion.

One of the things that the female members of the panel focused on was how to deal with the abuse that blogging can provoke. It’s probably one of the reasons why there aren’t nearly enough female political bloggers.

I’m of a similar school of thought as Ellie, who said she simply blocked people who tweeted abuse at her, and suggested treating it like a dinner party: if someone came up in the middle of a dinner party and said “F**k you” you wouldn’t accept it, so why should you online?

Another point discussed was dissent. It was highlighted that there isn’t much blogging on the trade union side of politics, for the simple reason that any dissent would be taken by opponents on the right and used as a stick to beat them with. Guido Fawkes is strong evidence that this is true.

But dissent is a key part of the discussion that keeps political organisations alive. I consider myself a loyal member of the Labour Party, but I don’t always agree with the positions it takes and the decisions it makes. And when I do disagree, I don’t have any problem with expressing it.

That’s part of the debate. It’s how politics works, and it’s the only way to keep policies vibrant and invigorated. It’s why people like Dan Hodges are as essential to the Party as more loyalist figures, and whatever the problems it creates that freedom and difference of opinion must be at the centre of the debate.

Dispatches from the Front Lines of Animal Welfare


I can think of few issues that seem to me as clear cut as animal welfare. It seems to me like the fair treatment of animals — as pets, wildlife or farming animals — should be no controversial thing.

Sadly, I think we all know that this isn’t the state of reality. It is, therefore, reassuring to know that we have organisations like the RSPCA to defend animal rights and prosecute abusers — and a man as passionate and committed as Gavin Grant to lead it.

Last night I attended a “Beer and Curry Night” hosted by the RSPCA (and funded by an anonymous sponsor). There I and other attendees got to tuck in to a delicious curry (chicken, not cat!) Whilst listening to Mr Grant, Mary Creagh (shadow secretary for the environment and rural affairs) and Richard Howitt (MEP for the east of England).

Gavin Grant was brilliant. Utterly unapologetic in his passion for animal welfare and profoundly thankful to Labour for the last government’s progress on the matter — not least of which the fox hunting ban, something which we should all be proud of. He also told some interesting takes, such as that the RSPCA was formed in 1824 on the second attempt, with thanks to William Wilberforce — making it an older law enforcement body than the police.

He also told is that the RSPCA’s prosecution success rate is 98%, compared to the CPS’s 3 in 4.

Mary Creagh focused more on the upcoming badger cull, a path that the government is pursuing
against scientific and economic common sense. The cull, she said, will increase the spread of TB because it will displace badgers and cause them to move around, infecting more cattle.

She also highlighted the existence of a badger TB vaccine, trials of which were canceled by the coalition when it came to power. By vaccinating badgers, we could tackle the problem of bovine TB more cheaply and effectively than a needless and dangerous slaughter.

Personally, I think that the fewer people we have wandering the countryside at night with guns, the better.

Finally, Richard Howitt spoke about the work the EU Parliament has done on animal rights, particularly in terms of battery hens. When MEPs are often out if the limelight and the good work they do unnoticed, with the media dominated by national or local politicians, it’s immensely encouraging and inspiring to see a man like Richard who is as tireless working for his huge constituency as the best MPs are working for the people of their own much smaller ones.

It was an excellent night, and a real eye opener. The next time you see an advert seeking donations to the RSPCA, please pay attention and seriously consider donating. These are dedicated and committed people who do a lot of very good work, and we should be proud that we live in a country with such a strong tradition of animal welfare that for nearly two hundred years they have been fighting for that welfare — and proud of the last Labour government which did so much for the cause.

The View from the Third Row


Ed Miliband introduces Professor Michael Sandel at the Labour Party conference

So I’ve been to my first session of conference, and am already excited. My seat, as a delegate is right at the front of the hall, on only the third row back. The view will be fantastic, come Ed Miliband’s speech on Tuesday.

And actually, I’ve already had a bit of a sneak preview. When I first walled into the conference hall,.the man himself was just taking to the stage, to introduce the guest speaker Michael Sandel, a Harvard professor of political philosophy.

Anyone who says that Ed can’t hack it as a speaker is talking nonsense. The Labour party leader I saw today was confident, articulate and in the ascendent. He seemed more prime ministerial than David Cameron without even trying, whatever Tory polls might say.

And as an introductory figure, Professor Sandel set the scene brilliantly. He gave an excellent audience participation lecture on market thinking in our society. He explained how over the last three decades market thinking has crept from purely economics into areas of society too, without any public debate on the matter.

One particular story he told stood out. In Switzerland, the government were looking for a storage site for nuclear waste. They polled residents of a village near an ideal site on whether they would accept such a site nearby, and 51% said yes. Then they polled again, adding the condition that the government would pay each resident an annual payment. The yes vote plummeted to 25%.

The introduction of money, Professor Sandel said, changed the nature of the transaction, and changed the focus from the common good.

Professor Sandel finished by highlighting the need for debate of this change, asking if we want to live in a society where everything is for sale.

This is what the conference, Ed Miliband’s leadership, and the Labour party is all about. And I think people are starting to realise that. Certainty the Tories are realising, which is why they’re already starting a huge negative campaign against him.

Imagine if the next government was every bit as radical as Margaret Thatcher’s — but following policies of radical fairness and equality. Then you’ll see why I’m so proud to be Labour, and so exited to be here at conference this week.