A train repleat with croaky voices, rumpled clothes and bleary eyes stood witness to another successful Labour Party annual conference.
There’ve been a lot of words written about the conference, the speeches, and the Party. I thought I would add to the ever-increasing library on the subject with a few of my own thoughts on things I noticed about my experience of the Labour Party conference.
1. Liverpool had a very familiar feel
The mix of Georgian splendour like St George’s Hall and modern redevelopment around Albert Dock reminded me a lot of my home town of Newcastle.
And that wasn’t the only similarity. Travelling out of the city centre to the Everton or Toxteth areas revealed communities shattered by the lack of economic opportunity caused by the death of industry. In Liverpool’s case, the dockers; in Newcastle, the shipbuilders.
Rows of boarded up terrace houses, nurseries, community centres stand testimony to the destruction wrought on Liverpool and, as I stood looking at the devastation, I couldn’t help but think of my family and the community I’d been raised in back in the North East. It was interesting to see the similarities in that and the way both cities are bouncing back.
2. Working a conference is very different to attending as a delegate or visitor
Early starts and long days spent planning, organising, and worrying about your own fringe events don’t lend themselves well to the late nights in bars and hotels meeting people and talking about political ideas, ideals, and directions. But those late nights are what make conference worthwhile.
It’s these late nights where you get to meet fellow activists from around the country and compare notes. Whether those notes are on campaigning techniques or the impact of the Coalition on constituencies, towns and cities around the country varies from person to person. It’s also the chance to meet the professional lobbyists coming to conference as exhibitors and listen to what they have to say. It even gives the opportunity to talk to Labour MPs and find out more about them as well as let them find out about your issues and thoughts.
3. The free food and drink at conference fringe events comes at a cost
The majority of the bigger events around the conference offer ‘free food and drink’ as a way of enticing you in. And, given the timing of events over the lunch breaks or at dinner time, is your best chance to get any food into your system anyway.
However, the food tends to be sandwiches and finger food for the most part. And, while that’s ok for a day, it quickly becomes very beige with a distinct lack of any sign of your five-a-day. By Tuesday afternoon, my body was crying out for any kind of fruit or vegetable.
4. Despite points 2 and 3, conference is a great place to be
Surrounding yourself with people who have similar political ideologies and goals is a good thing to do once a year. It’s very empowering and motivating. Putting up with the sleep deprivation and lack of nutrients is a price worth paying for that experience.
Despite the shared goal of getting Labour back in government, there’s still a good deal of debate about how to reach that goal. Everyone has different views on what the Party should look like going forward. In one place were gathered people who self-identify as Purple, Blue, Green, Red and every other hue of Labour. And all wanted to give voice to their view in debates which were mostly fascinating and friendly and stretched long into the night.
Hence the croaky voices, rumpled clothes and bleary eyes on the train home on Thursday afternoon. A train that was a positive and encouraged place to be , no matter what you might hear from the media. There is far more that unites Labour Party members than divides us.