Conference Notebook

by Jon Ashworth

An eminent philosopher gave us an exhilarating, thought provoking and at times brain aching lecture on the floor of Conference yesterday. It was certainly a departure from the usual Sunday Conference afternoon though I concede the jury is still out on twitter as to whether it succeeded. But it was definitely popular in the hall. Just fancy, a party Conference discussing big ideas, whatever next?


For ten years I spent the Sunday evening of conference locked in soul destroying conference rooms in, often, soul destroying compositing meetings. Usually these gatherings would go on till the early hours of Monday morning but I’m told this year they were all done and dusted in a few hours, it was never like that in my day!


Freed from any need to be in an arid room trying to hammer out a political compromise,  I’m able to explore the Sunday night receptions. Deciding to give the rival Compass and Progress rallies a miss I head to Labour Friends of India where I’m joined by many friends and colleagues from Leicester. Brent MP Barry Gardner excels as the compere without compare and I get the chance to say a few words. Sadiq Khan joins us and tells an anecdote about a senior shadow cabinet member who addressed this gathering a few years ago with the opening line “it’s great to be here at Labour Friends of Israel…” Moments later a shadow cabinet member arrives to address us and makes the same mistake.


I head to Labour Friends of Bangladesh followed by the annual East Midlands Labour party do. The general secretary is speaking of how the Labour Party is changing becoming more engaged with communities. Lots has been said about these new forms of community organising from the platform so far this week and personally I see it as a welcome return to our roots as a movement. What’s more the work Tom Watson, Harriet Harman and Jon Trickett are doing to make us more rooted and representative of the country is absolutely vital.

Meanwhile the man christened the ‘oracle’ by Jon Cruddas is on fine form. Step forward Vernon Coaker, first elected in 1997 when he overturned a young Andrew Mitchell’s 12000 majority in Gedling and he’s still there. Vernon is now Shadow Northern Ireland secretary and wowed East Mids delegates at the East Mids lunch. This former Nottingham deputy head teacher is one to watch.


Later I walk to the bar which jammed with people cheering the golf – this is certainly turning out to be a Conference of firsts! And so its a quick drink with old friends from the GMB including the legendary Mary Turner before retiring for the night. I have to pace myself these days!

Jon Ashworth is Labour MP for Leicester South and an opposition whip

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