This will be (almost) the last post on the Labour Party Conference, which I have to say I was only really a half-hearted participant in. But I will be trying to tie up - or at least temporarily safety-pin - a lot of loose ends, so bear with me, as this post may be longer than usual...
I think above all it is the long and strange hours of activity at Conference which makes it so tiring and rather disorientating for someone like me - a commuter who quite likes the structure of regular 9.30 to 6 office days supplemented by reading on the train journey to and from London. All the interesting action at LPC takes place at fringes, receptions or informal drinking sessions which are at lunchtimes or in the evenings, from about 5.30 pm until last person standing in the hotel bar keels over and is used as a guinea pig for the next morning's breakfast buffet. I was too weedy to stay up into the night this year (or maybe I'm just coming down with a mystery illness) - and with the fringes it is always hard to choose as the best ones are invariably in the same time slot and thus if you go to one meeting you worry about missing the 6 or 7 other good meetings that are going on. Particularly if you go to an Electoral Commission fringe where the bill promises Armando Ianucci, Jon Snow and Alan Johnson and none of the bastards turn up!
There are sometimes breakfast events as well but they are rarely any good as many of the key players are bombed out of their skull from the night before and thus fail to show up, or contribute nothing of significance. The "real" conference hours, from about 9.30 to 1 and 2 to 5, are mind-numbingly boring, aside from a few set-piece speeches which are pored over by the media (including blogs like this) for the faintest hint of what is going on, in much the same way that the old Party Congress speeches used to be analysed in the Soviet Union.
Parallels with the USSR have been in my head a lot during conference; the Britannia Hotel had a very Eastern Bloc feel about it, with its fallen-on-hard times opulence and creepy long corridors - something like The League of Gentlemen meets The Shining. I will post a couple of pictures when I get them off my phone. Overhearing political discussions between the Benns Hilary and Tony in the restaurant at breakfast was also very surreal. The selection of free tat that you can grab from the exhibition stands outside the entrance to the conference hall was redolent of what central planners might produce left to their own devices: NASUWT yo-yos, pens of every shape, ink colour and usability, a lot of lollies, Crossrail bottle-openers in the shape of hard hats, Cancer Research post-it notes and at least five alternative neckbands for your Conference ID cards, mostly from trade unions, so that delegates didn't have to go round advertising Sky News all week. I liked the GMB "AA is sacking disabled workers" campaign one best.
To press a point, the whole leadership contest feels a bit like the succession battles in the Politburo that produced Gorbachev during the 1980s. Tony Blair is hardly Brezhnev or Andropov or the other guy who had to wait for his pacemaker to recharge when he was halfway through his inaugural speech, but it feels like he's been with us for pretty much as long, and the public probably feels equally removed from the Labour party's internal dealings as the Soviet citizens did back then. Not that I am recommending that the Labour leadership be submitted to a popular referendum, but hey, kids - if you want to have a say, just join up now! (I don't know if you have to have been a Labour Party member for a certain number of months/years to get a vote on the leadership, but if the party has any sense they would have such a rule. Otherwise a bunch of 'ringers' could join up, vote for any old duffer (Alan Milburn)? and then leave again...)
I'm going to stop this post here and then assess each of the challengers for the Labour leadership in individual posts to make it easier to read and to give myself a break. L8ers.