Paul Richards‘ Conference Notebook
Very flat, Brighton. Yesterday was the emptiest I have ever seen conference. You could get a drink at the bar, and get into the secure zone without queuing for hours. The Metropole and Grand had empty seats, and worse so did the conference itself. When Gordon Brown walked out to introduce some of our candidates, he confronted a half-full Brighton Centre. It looked terrible on the TV, and the BBC were not above drawing attention to it in their bulletins. Once, not so long ago, the conference organisers laid on an overspill theatre with a big screen for all the people who wanted to hear Tony Blair, but couldn’t fit into the hall. I hope that on Tuesday for the big speech, every seat is filled otherwise we will look like we’ve given up.
On the fringe
While delegates in the main hall struggle to stay conscious, notwithstanding a barnstorming speech from Ed Miliband yesterday, the fringe was lively. It’s becoming like the Edinburgh Festival, with the fringe outshining the main event. Sunday started with the annual Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD) rally, which demanded a return to the 1983 manifesto and the ritual disembowelling of all Labour ministers (only one of those statements is untrue). It was standing room only in the political equivalent of Life on Mars. Not only was the 83 election a kind of triumph for Labour – with eight million votes for socialism – but also it turned out it was 25 years ahead of its time. The Progress Rally, held in screen one of the Odeon cinema on the seafront, was also packed. Peter Mandelson, Liam Byrne, Andy Burnham, David Miliband, Margaret Hodge, Oona King, the speakers kept on coming, and the audience cheered them on. New Labour is alive and kicking in Brighton this week.
No more no platform
JackStraw told delegates that he would represent the Labour Party on BBC TV’s Question Time against Nick Griffin. Opinion is divided on the sagacity of appearing on the programme. Some, such as Margaret Hodge at the Progress Rally, support the idea. ‘No platform’ was a tactic designed to show that some politicians were beyond the pale, that fascists masquerading as legitimate candidates should be allowed to appear a normal part of the political process, and that no matter what the differences, Labour, Tories, Liberals etc were united in their repudiation of racist parties. By appearing alongside the BNP, the danger is it legitimising them as part of mainstream politics. It looks to the casual observer that there is a broad political spectrum, with the BNP as part of it. What’s changed is their millions of votes and dozens of elected representatives. The BBC shouldn’t have invited the BNP, and in my view Labour shouldn’t take part in the programme.
Award for lazy-arse journalism…
Goes to the leader-writers on the Telegraph, who stole the riff from Gaby Hinsliff in the Observer yesterday that Brighton was the birthplace of New Labour, where Tony Blair announced the end of Clause IV in 1994. Except it isn’t. Blair announced the review of Labour’s aims and values in Blackpool in 1994, not Brighton. The passage appeared in the last section of the speech, (the peroration as it’s known in speech-writing circles) and the advance press handouts of the speech had the last page missing. That meant when Blair dropped his bombshell it was a genuine surprise to the delegates and media. I was standing at the back of the Winter Gardens. When he said it, the air was filled with the sound of pennies dropping. That was the start of the Clause IV moment, although the actual decision to replace it took place at Methodist Central Hall the following April.