Fletcher-Hackwood & Friends at Conference, Day #2

We all woke up bright and early on a beautiful day to be left-wing. The sun was shining, the coffee was amaretto-flavoured, and JK Rowling had donated a million pounds to the Labour Party.

At Manchester Central it turned out I was being seconded to steward the press room instead of doing disability support. The press room (for those of you who haven’t been to this sort of thing) is the size of a hangar with lines of tables running across it, sort of like you’d see at the count on election nights. On one side of this are the fenced-off areas for each newspaper, and on the other side is the Party’s press office, where they hand out piles of press releases (did the Prime Minister really describe JK as ‘one of the greatest authors ever’?) and the PLP office. Yes, that’s right – the PLP office is basically an area of the press room, separated by a curtain and a few sheets of MDF. It’s the job of my team to stop the press getting through the magic door and finding the Labour Party’s stash of wizard gold confidential memos. What could possibly go wrong?

We also had a quick wander to the broadcast media area, which meant a trek through the conference hall itself. I don’t know whether the hall actually is smaller than the one at, say, the Winter Gardens, or whether conference just looks bigger on telly – either way the room wasn’t as intimidatingly huge as I’d thought it would be. The broadcast area was very exciting, if only because they had a much better refreshments table than us lowly stewards…

I spent the day sitting in a front of a little-used door to the PLP repographics office to make sure no journos wandered into it by accident. Once I’d exhausted the paranoiac amusement value to be found in the snipers on a rooftop across the secure zone (“Can they see me? ARE THEY AIMING AT ME??…Do you reckon if I wave they’ll wave back or shoot my hand off?”), this was not the most fascinating job, although my co-steward was a very lovely man named Frank. He encouraged me to wander back into the conference hall when conference actually started, which meant I got to join in with a standing ovation for the Prime Minister (well, I didn’t have a chair, but I would have standingly ovated anyway) and also hear Sir Richard Leese’s introduction. I thought it was appropriate that instead of a glitzy Manchester travelogue, or even a ‘Labour heartlands’ history of the city, he addressed the challenges that Manchester still faces and what Labour does to combat them – really facing up to Iain Duncan Smith’s criticisms that Labour has concentrated on the city centre but left poorer areas behind.

I spent the rest of the day watching Sky News and eavesdropping. A pair of journalists, one with camera and sound equipment, powered past; one said to the other “…what we want to do is pin down the issues that are going to define this conference, now that it’s not going to be the leadership.” Could there actually be some quality, non-bubble reporting from Conference this week? …shall I hold my breath?

At the end of a hard day’s sitting still, I did hasten me to the Town Hall to stalk Polly Toynbee take part in my first fringe event: a panel debate put on by the Fabians to discuss ‘how to make Middle Englanders care about child poverty’, or words to that effect. This seemed very appropriate given that JK’s contribution to party funds was made on the basis of Labour’s record on child poverty. It was a very interesting discussion but I didn’t feel the issue of single-parent families was properly addressed (even after I brought it up, ahem). Iain Duncan Smith (who seemed to have been brought along as some kind of circus freak: “come, stare at the Tory!”) was allowed to blether on almost unchallenged about the benefits system incentivising couples to break up. I did, however, appreciate Polly making my mom’s favourite point about single parents: that the majority are neither teenagers or people who create children while single, but people in their thirties who had children while in a committed relationship and then split up.

After that I headed off to meet a friend, and then on to Canal Street for an LGBT Labour event in AXM, featuring Ed Miliband and, much more excitingly, t-shirts with the slogan ‘NEVER KISSED A TORY (never will).’ A good time was had by all…

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