The late September sun is shining flintily over the conference courtyard and after Ed’s big speech there is already a feeling of things quietly shutting down. Yesterday the crowd with tickets for the main hall snaked around the building, while the less fortunate and organised joined me in a half-full conference hall to watch it on a giant screen.
His speech began with a message from Burman civil rights leader Aung San Suu Kyi congratulating Labour on their conference. It’s weird to think how to some countries democracy is an almost unachievable deal while in others its an excuse for a piss up. Then followed a series of short videos with various celebrities and party members celebrated how brilliant the party is and how much they support Ed. Since this was being broadcast more or less solely to Labour party members it feels weirdly self-indulgent and self-congratulatory.
Then Ed takes to the stage. He starts off well with some good jokes but then as his speech wanders on so does my attention. I check Twitter, I look around the room. We all look a bit bored, some people leave. As an outsider, I find his speech a bit dull. At all the events I’ve been to, people seem desperate for Labour to reclaim their relationship with unions, to reject the Conservative argument that the recession was caused by over spending and not the banking crisis, that benefit cheats aren’t the biggest threat posing Britain. But Ed’s speech seems to have ignored all their idealism and passion and instead feels like a shy wave to middle England voters.
Afterwards everybody spills out of the venue. Reporters and camera crews spot important politicians and journalists, pick them from the crowd and grab them for an interview. I hover trying to listen but they speak too quietly.. Ed and Justine arrive looking flushed and beamingly walk through the crowd. A camera man congratulates him on his speech, and friends take the mick out of him for doing it as they leave.
What’s strange is that his speech is treated like the raw material. It’s not what he actually said that is important, it’s the way it’s interpreted afterwards that matters. It’s like a hall of mirrors that everyone sees their own vision of the party in. Some claim it was the most left wing speech given at conference in years, other that it was mediocre sell out, most were just underwhelmed.
I hang around the lobby as long as I can before hot-footing it to a pub at the outskirts of thecity where I have organised a comedy night to highlight a Protest Against the Cuts website. The crowd are all very young, male and in matching suits. As crowds go they are bizarre; friendly and polite but completely uncomfortable and achingly serious. They are not sure what to laugh at, what is acceptable. Afterwards, me and some of theother comics gate crash the Fabian Society Party in the Town Hall. I’m beginning to recognise people now and nod over the free wine. Apart from olives and dips there are no free food.
After that, it’s a Diversity party, a room above a night club with wall to wall white men in suits. The night ends with the comedians all gossiping about the shadow cabinet in a canal barge rented for the conference by a think tank executive. Yvette Cooper and Ed Miliband were flat mates and both Eds once dated, albeit at different times, the same BBC reporter. The shadow cabinet could conceivably be influenced by whether at university, somebody did their fair share of washing up. I find this idea strangely reassuring.