Manchester

Labour Conference 2012 – A Summary


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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.

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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).

Diary of a Conference Virgin


So I’ve left the sunny countryside of Berkshire. I’ve even departed the bustling metropolis of London (where, at Euston, I’m reasonably sure that the announcer said one train was calling at King’s Landing, of A Song of Ice and Fire fame). I am presently streaming my way up the country towards my old homestead of the North West. Yes, I’m headed to Manchester for the Labour Party Conference.

I’ve watched conferences on TV for the last few years, but this will be my first time actually attending; a true conference virgin. And, it’s fair to say, I’ve been unrestrainably excited all week.

I’ve been looking over the schedules, trying and for the most part failing to decide what to go to. Truth is, I’d like to go to everything; every conference hall session, every seminar, every talk, every meeting, and every reception.

Sadly, until Amazon deliver me the TARDIS I ordered, that won’t be possible. But I will be making sure to experience all that I possibly can of the whole extravaganza. I’m even *gulp* going to try to make a speech.

One of the things I’m most looking forward to is Ed Miliband’s speech on Tuesday. Not simply for Ed (though yes, that too), but also to experience a party leader’s speech in the flesh. Last year I watched Ed’s speech on TV, and my thoughts on it (excellent content, but somewhat stilted delivery) was quite different from the feedback of some of the people who were actually there.

And after Nick Clegg’s self-congratulatory, content-vacuum of a speech at the Lib Dem conference earlier this week, Ed has a real opportunity to present something radical and progressive.

Another high point is going to meeting a lot of people on the left with whom I’ve communicated a lot online, but not yet had the pleasure of meeting face-to-face. The Political Scrapbook-sponsored tweetup on Wednesday night should be good for that, but otherwise if you see me in the street do say hello. You’ll know me by my hair, and the rapt expression on my face — like a kid in a sweet shop.

(Also, most of my blogging this week, and I intend to blog a lot is likely to be done using the Android WordPress app — so do please excuse any slips in my usual high standards of spelling and formatting, and any other teething issues)

…And in with the New


So, 2012 is here at last! The year of mayoral elections, Olympics, the 29th February, and lots of doom-mongering about the end of the world. Which, actually, seems to have started early with yesterday’s return of bird flu. What joys we have to look forward to…

The start of January is, traditionally, the time that everyone spends denouncing New Year’s resolutions as a load of nonsense. Why make all these pledges you’ll never keep, specifically on the first day of the year? Surely if you want to improve yourself, it shouldn’t be dependent on a certain date?

Well yes, but shut up. Self-improvement is a worth objective whenever, so whilst waiting for New Year to start is dumb, taking advantage of the opportunity to set objectives for the year ahead isn’t. And without further ado, I submit to you dear reader my objectives for 2012:

  • Read more, write more, publish more: 2011 was something of a crap year as far as my publishing went. One story published at the start of the year, and one acceptance at the end. Not really good enough. So since my story “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep” will be shortly printed in the Night Terrors II anthology, I want to start off on that foot. Writing, submitting and publishing. I have several ideas for short stories, a novella underway, and am a few chapters into Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World”.
  • Take second place in the May elections: the Rememnham, Wargrave and Remenham by-election I stood in last year saw a good showing for the Labour vote. A strong third place, with a weak turnout. In May the same seat will be up again for re-election, and I hope to get the Labour nomination (I can’t see much competition for it). I’m a realist, so my aim is to take second place off the Lib Dems, but of course a surprise landslide victory would be very welcome!
  • Find a job: I’m currently still volunteering with Political Scrapbook, as I have been for several months. It’s a lot of fun, very convenient and I’ve learnt a lot, but I have a rather powerful need for a proper job promptish. So I want a decent job by the end of the year, so I can start saving and get my life and career on track post-university.
  • Go to FantasyCon 2011: Since I’m finally a member of the BFS, I’m going to FantasyCon, and no one can bloody stop me! It’ll be a fantastic dose of inspiration, I’ll get to go back to Brighton, and I’ll meet so many of the genre writers I admire (I already owe Gary McMahon a drink!)
  • Go to the Labour Party Conference: I was gutted to miss this in 2011. Liverpool is my favourite city in the country, and I would have loved to have gone. This year is Manchester, so still my old stalking grounds, and I’m going.  Whether as Maidenhead CLP delegate or just as a party member, I’m not really too bothered.

So there we have it. What I want from 2012. And if I can get through it hearing a minimum number of ranters going on about the end of the world, so much the better.

Happy new year to you all!

Non-political Politics


Scenes like these, which have marred the cities of England the past few days, are disgraceful. But as well as stopping these riots, we need to find out why they have happened, if we are to prevent them from happening again

Last November, I took part in a mass-march in London, organised by the NUS, against the Tory-led coalition government’s plans to treble tuition fees. I left before they turned into the violent disorder which came to define them, but when the rage of thousands of students crashed like a wave against Millbank (containing Conservative Party HQ), it was clearly politically driven.

Over the last few days, I’ve been watching violent riots and looting, which started in North London and spread across the country. It started because the police communicated poorly after a man was shot and killed in Tottenham, and stemmed from a general deep mistrust of the police in the area. Very quickly it moved beyond that, and young people across London and other cities were rioting, looting and destroying things. And yet, the government’s line is that this isn’t political.

Now, I don’t follow that. I absolutely deplore the destruction that has been rolling across English cities, and if any of them try it here they’ll have to go through me (and, I suspect, a fair number of other Wargrave residents). But calling it “criminality pure and simple”, whilst not being inaccurate, seems to miss the point.

What these young people are doing is criminal, and should be punished, but simply saying that and ignoring any deeper causes seems at best foolish, and at worst catastrophic. Simply put, if the reasons why this has happened aren’t explored and dealt with, then it will just happen again, and in a year or maybe two the shops of London, Manchester, Birmingham and more will be aflame again.

I don’t know the answers to this. However, I have my suspicions. These riots have started, and progressed, in particularly poor areas. Branding the people who live there as “chavs” and “scum” is simplistic. They’re still people, and people who for the most part have had to live all their lives in extreme poverty, and in a materialistic society which prizes products above people. It seems clear to me that when their frustration boils over, it would take the form of such looting as we’ve been seeing.

The fact is that most of these people feel that the world, and specifically the government, don’t care about them. This is underlined by a cabinet full of millionaires, and a Prime Minister whose primary source of irritation at yesterday’s press conference seemed to be that he’d had to cut his holiday short to run the country he is paradoxically leader of. I know that I take very badly to lectures about poverty from people who have never so much as seen it. I can only imagine how angry it makes people who live in that poverty.

I agree that these riots need to stop. They are hurting a lot of people, and are an exercise in selfishness. I’m uneasy about water cannons, rubber bullets and martial law, but a police surge in London seemed to do the trick last night. But what must not happen is for this to be allowed to be labelled “non-political” and left at that.

Politics is not something that happens once every four/five years. Just because the rioters aren’t carrying placards doesn’t mean that this has nothing to do with politics. Politics includes most things in life, and the fact that these people have very little, and what they do have is being slowly taken away through government cuts and disinterest, whilst not even beginning to justify their actions, goes some way to explain the feeling behind them.

What needs to happen is an honest, open debate about why this has happened. And government refusal to engage, as hinted by Cameron’s speech, and more explicitly shown by Michael Gove trying to shout down Harriet Harman making that point on last night’s Newsnight, shows the kind of “brush it under the carpet” philosophy which could tear British society apart before this parliament is finished.