by Jon Ashworth
I’ve attended Labour conference continually since 1996. I’ve been a steward, a delegate twice, a bag carrier for an MP, a bag carrier for a Cabinet Minister, a back room boy for two leaders and this year and last as an MP. And I still love it.
Though in my heart I still wish we went to Blackpool, I’m always excited to back here in Manchester the city where I grew up.
Conference effectively starts early on Saturday with the women’s conference, one of the reforms Harriet Harman pushed through her in brief period as acting leader. The event has got bigger and bigger over the last few years and gives Conference a buzz before it has even formally started. So much for the glums who complain there’s no excitement in the run up to Conference this year.
Whether its cutbacks or the realities of opposition I’m surprised to find no ring of steal round the Conference hotel this year. In fact I can walk right through the Midland hotel front door with my little 16 month old daughter Gracie in her push chair with no need to navigate G4’s security searches.
Unbeknownst to me I rock up minutes before Ed is to make the customary Leader arrival. Harriet waiting on the steps to greet Ed instead bounds up to little Gracie in her pushchair, while i look on embarrassed that her face (Gracie’s that is not Harriet’s) is covered with the residue of ‘Goodies’ tomato cheese puffs. I become even more embarrassed when I realise a camera man has spotted the encounter and is filming our deputy leader and little Gracie. I look on with a fixed grin trying to hide my worries about families watching TV in their front room at homes aghast at this bad father who has allowed his little girl to be on telly with such a mucky face. I hope no one in Leicester recognises me…
I’m then tapped on the shoulder by an officious looking press officer, clipboard in hand, telling me the leader is about to arrive and I need to get out of the ‘arrival shot’. Gracie and I quickly toodle off while I scavenge in my pocket for a face wipe.
Saturday evening always begins with the conference delegates’ reception. There is widespread support for Ed as he declares that tackling the horrendous levels of youth joblessness would be his priority on day one. It’s an important commitment for cities like Leicester where we our levels of youth unemployment remain stubbornly high. The commitment is greeted with much support in the room.
Among delegates there is much talk of things being good on the doorstep but everyone is naturally cautious and not wanting to take anything for granted. Council by-election results have been especially encouraging for us lately. Just the other week we won a seat with a spectacular 18% swing in the highly marginal Sherwood constituency. Congratulations to Sherwood Labour but there has of course been other good results elsewhere in battleground constituencies too.
The Tories have tried to throw a spanner into our conference.
But so far all I have found is much bemusement at these latest Tory attacks on us. No one has spotted the attack poster that is supposedly being driven round Manchester in an attempt to dampen our spirits. Perhaps the Tory driver got lost on his way up north.
We know that Conservative bloggers have excitedly written of Osborne’s apparent plans to go for our jugular. But is this really it? Is this the best they can do? This from a Tory government and a Tory chancellor who is making a complete mess of the public finances. From a Tory prime minister who will break his promise to British people to balance the books by 2015. Who are these Tories, while overseeing huge rising borrowing to pay for their economic failure, trying to kid?!
Jon Ashworth is Labour MP for Leicester South and an opposition whip