I took the train up from London to Liverpool yesterday afternoon. I felt gloomy about it, which is strange, because I usually look forward to Labour conference each year. A whole big mess that I have no real emotional stake in – plus I get to see a lot of Labour people I like that I never normally get to see. But this year I felt a real sense of foreboding as I found my way to Lime Street station via the rest of the country.
I think there are, to be fair, two big reasons for this that I cannot blame on the Labour Party in particular. One is personal and involves a whole entourage including a secretary of state (don’t worry, it’s actually much more boring than it sounds); the other is my reaction to Theresa May’s speech yesterday afternoon. It genuinely terrified me. What it conveyed to me was this: oh God, she really has no idea what she’s doing at all. If we somehow end up with a deal with the EU of any kind and avoid a massive political crisis along the way, it will be through sheer luck. At least I know that now.
Jeremy Hunt was quoted as saying “Don’t mistake politeness for weakness”. I think I’m seeing weakness where there is weakness, mate.
I like Liverpool. I have only ever come here for conferences over the last decade, but I like it every time a conference brings me here just the same. First impressions of the conference itself? I only went in for a couple of hours last night and wandered about aimlessly. I was trying to hang on for a reception, but then just decided I couldn’t be bothered. I didn’t see a soul that I knew, anywhere. Wasn’t surprising – there were very few souls about. Now, Saturday of conference at Labour has never been a particularly rocking affair, most people showing up on Sunday at the earliest, but even so, this is the deadest Saturday at a Labour conference I’ve ever been witness to. I have no idea to what that portends.
There were almost more people outside the security perimeter waving EU flags (in protest? Misguided solidarity? Wasn’t clear) than there were inside the ACC. A group of young people were giving out bags that bore the slogan “Love Corbyn, Hate Brexit”. What was weird about them was that the “Hate Brexit” latter portion was much more emphasised than the “Love Corbyn” part. At least these young Labour folk have their priorities straight.
I am now having flashbacks to Coalition era Labour conferences. Everyone really so sure Ed Miliband was going to be the next prime minister. They really did, I promise you, I was there. A lot more than Labour folk seem to genuinely believe Jeremy Corbyn will be our next PM these days. Perhaps I need to have a proper day of Labour conference in order to fully make that assertion, to be fair. Off I go.