Some Labour people have speculated to me that this year’s conference in Brighton could be ugly not just in terms of atmosphere, but could actually become downright violent. I think the association is with the 80’s when Labour conference actually could be physically intimidating (apparently – I’m not that old). I think they’re over-egging the pudding a touch here and will make this prediction: there’s no way this year’s Labour conference can be as bad as last year’s edition in Manchester. In fact, if it’s anywhere near it, then Labour really do have epic problems.
The last time Labour conference was in Brighton was two years ago. I recall the atmosphere being a little tense, the delegates full of trepidation. Was Labour really going to win a general election in just over nineteen months time? Really? It felt uncertain to many. But then Ed Miliband gave the speech of his life and his energy price freeze, whatever you think of it in terms of policy, set the political agenda for that conference season. The Labourites departed the south coast on a high in 2013.
Then came last year in Manchester: it felt almost like a repeat of 2013 for the first couple of days, only up north and with even more stress in the air. Now the general election was worryingly close. The polls had closed in the intervening year even more in the Tories’ direction. But surely Ed’s speech would cure everything, just like in Brighton. When I am sitting on a beach somewhere when I’m 80, and someone asks me to recall the unforgettable moments in early 21st century British politics, one of them will definitely be having sat in the hall of Manchester Central for Ed Miliband’s 2014 conference speech. For it was not only the worst speech I am certain ever to hear from a major political figure, I think it may well be the worst speech it is ever conceivable for any such figure to deliver.
Everyone talked afterwards about the “I met a man named Gareth” style anecdotes – what you wouldn’t have got, unless you watched the whole thing, was that the entire first twenty minutes of the speech were nothing but these anecdotes. I was about to put “pointless” as an adjective immediately before “anecdotes” in that previous sentence, until I thought about it again and realised that they weren’t pointless: they were worst than that, counter-productive. They cemented the image that surely Miliband wanted to escape from, namely that he was an out of touch north London intellectual with distain for anything that occured outside the boundaries of a handful of boroughs in the capital.
So there’s no way Corbyn can do worse, which I think Labour members attending should take as a very positive thing. If he was to come on stage, say to the crowd, “Give in to the void, cretins”, then proceed to sit in cross-legged silence for the next half-hour in the middle of the conference stage, it would be a vast improvement on the 2014 leader’s speech.
Anyhow, I’m off to Brighton this morning and I can say this much: I’ve never looked forward to a Labour conference as much as this one. I am genuinely excited about what I’ll find there, politically and sociologically. I’ll let you all know how it goes.