Posts Tagged ‘Birmingham’

I phone banked for four weeks but picked up no Labour surge. And then, on polling day, there it was

09/06/2017, 06:00:53 PM

by Andy Howell

Early Thursday morning, election day. I made my way into Birmingham Labour’s phone bank with long time, fellow traveller, Bill Lees. As we approached that final push we wondered whether this might be the last time we could run a simple and conventional Get Out The Vote Operation (GOTV). Despite all of the computers and the clever pieces of software GOTV remains based on brute strength. It worked in Stoke on Trent with the backup of hundreds and thousands of volunteers. But could it still work in basic elections?

Bill and I seemed to have been locked in that phone bank for most of the previous four weeks. Bill — who was running the operation — seemed to have moved into the Birmingham office for the duration of the campaign. We survived on a poor diet of caffeine, sandwiches and very bad jokes.

For a month and more a dedicated team spoke to literally thousands of voters, initially to all and then latterly to those who had more closely identified with Labour over the last few years. It was hard going. We experienced little of the Labour ‘surge’. The last few days were positively depressing. In all honesty, we didn’t see Labour’s 40% vote coming, even as we ran wave after wave of phone knock-ups on polling day. Maybe our work did help? Maybe our work had made a difference? Maybe it didn’t? But our input into Labour’s Contact Creator seemingly hadn’t lied. The polls seemed to be right. We missed Labour’s rise completely. So, what were we missing?

Turnout was up significantly in our target seats. In some parts of Jack Dromey’s Erdington seat we were shocked at past voting records. We used Labour’s software to do some fundamental analysis. In one key area — Castle Vale — 42% of voters had not voted once in eight years. Two-thirds of voters had only voted twice across an eight year period and that voting pattern was heavily weighted to the beginning of that eight year period. It seemed these were elder voters simply getting too old to vote.

Voting turnout on ‘The Vale’ is dismally poor and yet residents came out in their droves for the EU referendum, to vote Brexit of course. Anecdotes from Party workers and polling officials suggested that in the referendum many had voted for the first time. These voters had no voting record. Phone numbers and accounts are regularly switched. From our phone banks we had no way of properly engaging with many of these voters; maybe if we had have been we would have not been caught so unaware.

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The view from Birmingham: Tory doctors, Lib Dem machines, Labour hopes

06/04/2015, 12:51:20 PM

by Jonathan Todd

I voted for Gerry Steinberg in the City of Durham in 2001, Keith Hill in Streatham in 2005, and stood in Westmorland and Lonsdale in 2010. I’ll vote on 7 May for Gisela Stuart to retain the Birmingham Edgbaston seat that she’s held since 1997. Then David Hill, a veteran of Labour communications, reacted to this Labour gain by repeatedly saying “fucking unbelievable” at the Labour celebration party at the Royal Festival Hall.

Dr Luke Evans, Stuart’s Tory opponent, is pictured with a stethoscope on his literature. The word Conservative is an afterthought. It bemoans the record of NHS Wales that is Labour controlled, while being silent on Stuart. No attempt to critique her record or change how we should think of her is made.

A “re-elect Gisela Stuart” poster looks out from our kitchen window. Our next door neighbour has one up too. Labour appears to be winning this street. But the constituency has not been blanketed as Tim Farron posters covered Westmorland and Lonsdale during 2010. These declared, “the local choice v the London banker”, which summed up the Liberal Democrat framing of the election as a contest between Farron and Gareth McKeever, a former banker and the Tory candidate.

In contrast to the Liberal Democrats in Westmorland and Lonsdale in 2010, communications from both the Conservatives and Labour in Edgbaston have made minimal attempts to frame the election. And as Evans downplays his Conservative status, Stuart also stands somewhat removed from her party, as her letter heading describes her as, “your independent thinking Labour candidate”.

Reflecting on his comprehensive defeat to Farron, McKeever has written, “the main reason we lost was the sheer size and scope of the local Lib Dem machine and extremely popular local MP”. Edgbaston has no such machine. To the extent that any Lib Dem activists are local, they have relocated to Birmingham Yardley and Solihull, where John Hemming and Lorely Burt seek to hold the only Lib Dem seats in the West Midlands.

Solihull recently hosted Nick Clegg watching a hedgehog walk in circles, a Lib Dem attempt to hold back what the local paper describes as “Boris mania” following a constituency visit by London’s Mayor. It is not just in the south west of England that the Conservatives are seeking to make gains at the expense of their coalition partners. That’s also their aim to the south east of Birmingham.

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Devolving £20bn is a big deal. Is Labour sure local councils can handle it? Really?

08/04/2014, 01:08:30 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Implicit in Ed Miliband’s big devolution speech today was a very, very large assumption.

When he promised that a Labour government would devolve £20bn of funding to partnerships of local authorities in the English regions, the Labour leader was assuming that local authorities are the best vehicles to distribute and administer the new funds.

This is far from proven.

It’s notable that the speech was made in Birmingham and marks the interim stage in Lord Adonis’ growth review. 

The track record of Birmingham council in typifies the sorts of problems that can occur when regional revival is left to traditional local authorities. Here’s none other than Lord Adonis on the subject, from earlier in this parliament,

“Let me give you my frank opinion, as one who has dealt with Birmingham City Council a good deal in recent years. The city needs to raise its game significantly in terms of leadership, performance and strategy…the city council has had…Weak strategic leadership alongside average (at best) improvement in the public services under its direct control.

Take education, which I know only too well from constant interaction with the city council…promoting reform to secondary education in the city has been like pulling teeth.”

Lord Adonis made these comments in a speech to the Lunar Society in March 2011, as Birmingham was preparing for a referendum on whether to move to a Mayoral system of local government.

Although the referendum was lost, the points made by Lord Adonis in favour of reforming the current system of local government still stand; all the more so if Labour is considering devolving such substantial amounts of funding to groups of local authorities.

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The best argument for an elected mayor will come from the people

20/09/2011, 09:35:29 AM

by Tom Keeley

On the day, at the weekend, that “yes to Brum mayor” launched its campaign for next year’s referendum, Birmingham Edgbaston CLP held its annual community conference.  While not at the campaign launch, I find hard to imagine that the assembled activists and politicians could have made a more compelling argument for an elected mayor than that made through the stories that residents gathered at the community conference told.

Time after time, residents expressed concern over the level of service the council provides. From bin bags to education and from rodents to health, residents felt that the performance of the council was unacceptable. All present could remember a time when the council had not responded to their needs; whether during a council tax enquiry or when trying to secure education for a disabled child or when seeking social care for an elderly relative. Most concerning was not that these problems exist, but that these are the same problems their parents had to contend with. Many admitted that they had stopped even trying to sort problems because dealing with the council was futile endeavour. “The lights are on in the council house, but no one is home”, commented one resident.

There was also a feeling in the room that as a city Birmingham had lost its way.  While other cities such as Bristol, Liverpool and Manchester have confidently claimed their place in twenty first century Britain, Birmingham has so far failed. It has failed to address the needs and harness the power of a young, diverse and changing population. It has failed to respond to a changing industrial reality. It has failed to admit that the city we now live in is deeply divided. Rather, it has drifted from year to year led by a council which lives from budget to budget.

Notwithstanding their disappointment, the number of residents present at the community conference is testament to the fact that the people of Birmingham are still willing to give politics a chance. But they need a politics that is accountable to them. Residents felt it unbelievable that the “leader” of Birmingham was selected through internal Conservative party dealings (and that a Labour leader of the council would be selected in the same way).  Residents bemoaned the fact that the leader could not in any meaningful sense be held accountable for his performance. “I would have sacked him long ago if I had the chance”, said one lifelong Birmingham resident.

The position of the elected mayor has the potential to bring vision and accountability to the politics of Birmingham. I am not foolish enough to think that one of the largest councils in Europe would suddenly change direction with an elected mayor; its failings go much deeper than that. But, having a person with whom the buck stops, who is accountable, who must consult in order to understand rather than to pander and who can be fired by the electorate for not seeing through election promises, would add much needed impetuous.  For too long Birmingham has lived with a Kafkaesque council and mediocre leadership.  This is an important election for Birmingham and a great opportunity for politics.

Tom Keeley is an activist in Birmingham Edgbaston CLP.

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Cameron must rethink police cuts

11/08/2011, 02:14:05 PM

by Matt Cavanagh

Two weeks ago, I highlighted the embarrassing gulf between David Cameron’s pre-election promise that cuts would not affect the front line, and the reality of the planned police cuts, as set out in the recent report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary.

There is undoubtedly scope for efficiency savings in the police, but as HMIC set out, with 81% of police funding going on staff costs, and another 10% going on areas like transport and premises, cuts of 20% were always going to cut deep into police numbers. HMIC’s report is the most systematic and rigorous attempt so far, to estimate not just the likely effect on total police numbers – a cut of 16,000 by 2015, ironically the exact number the Met have deployed on London’s streets in recent nights – but also the likely effect on the front line for different forces around the country.

This is relevant to Cameron’s defence of the policing cuts today, when he was confronted in the Commons by former Home Secretary Jack Straw. To justify his assertion that the cuts will not affect the front line, or visible patrolling, Cameron chose to discuss his own local force, Thames Valley. This choice was either ignorant, or disingenuous. A glance at the graph on page 22 of the HMIC report shows the difference in the scale of the challenge faced by Thames Valley Police, in trying to protect the front line from spending cuts, compared to those forces who have been dealing with the riots, including the West Midlands, Greater Manchester, and Merseyside. Thames Valley Police would have to reduce their non-front-line officers by just under 50%, in order to avoid cutting into the front line. That is challenging, but arguably possible. By contrast, the West Midlands, Greater Manchester, and Merseyside forces would have to cut their non-front-line officers by 100%. Even those who hold the simplistic view that almost all ‘back office’ jobs are unnecessary would have to admit that to cut at this level without affecting front line police numbers is simply impossible.

As public concern about crime and policing soars, the government seems to be trapped in defending two increasingly indefensible claims: first, that the cuts won’t reduce front line police numbers, and second, that anyway police numbers don’t affect crime. This position was already starting to look naïve or complacent before the riots, especially with the signs that the long downward trend in crime may be on the turn. Now it looks reckless and hopelessly out of touch, as even Conservative MPs and ‘ministerial sources’ admit.

It has been amusing, if also a bit depressing, to watch Tory cheerleaders like Tim Montgomerie suggest that the way out of this problem is for Theresa May to introduce a new target for how much time police officers actually spend doing visible work. In fact, May inherited such a target from Labour. Admittedly, it was applied only to Neighbourhood Policing Teams, but she could have chosen to extend it; instead, in those heady days of last summer when ministers were falling over themselves to mock Labour’s ‘top-down targets’, she scrapped it.

Even more ridiculous is the spectacle of Conservative MPs and Conservative-leaning think-tankers trying to use the riots to back up the case for elected police commissioners – just like they did with the scandal over the Met’s links to News International – without realising that the Met is precisely the one police force which is already very close to the elected commissioner model.

These rather desperate moves are not surprising, since other than elected commissioners, and some useful development of Labour’s introduction of online crime maps, the government doesn’t really have any crime policies – and yet they need to talk about something other than police cuts. But these moves aren’t working. As John McTernan noted this morning, Cameron’s reluctance to break off his holiday to grip the riots ignored the “basic political law, that if you’re going to have to do something, you should do it of your own free will, rather than being forced to.” He needs to realise that rethinking the police cuts falls in the same category.

Matt Cavanagh was a special adviser on crime and justice under the last Labour government.

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All women shortlists in inner city wards: no dispensation from representation

12/06/2011, 02:00:18 PM

by Waseem Zaffar

Last month, I was elected to Birmingham city council for the first time. A couple of weeks later was the council AGM, at which, amongst other things, we elected a new lord mayor. Councillor Len Gregory handed over to senior Labour councillor, Anita Ward. The whole occasion made me proud to be taking part and proud to be a Brummie. Cllr. Ward will be a fantastic first citizen.

But something about the ceremony also embarrassed me. Made me wonder whether Birmingham is truly the multi-cultural capital that we think it is, whether equality is the strong point that it ought to be. Cllr. Ward is only the seventh female lord mayor of our city. That is a shame and an embarrassment to us all: to the city and to all political parties.

Despite positive discrimination being introduced by Labour years ago, there is still a lack of women in the council chamber.

That can’t be right. We have to have the best people to represent our city. And those that represent our city have to “look” like the city they stand for. For example, Birmingham is the youngest city in Europe outside Turkey and has the largest population of under 30s. However, the council chamber, despite a number of young additions this year, still does not reflect the various age groups in the city.

Gender is also a huge issue for the council chamber. And Cllr. Ward’s elevation to lord mayor of Birmingham has opened up a debate.

We hear conflicting reports from the Birmingham Labour party. The Birmingham Labour party has a grid system which requires all wards to have a minimum of one female councillor/candidate (out of three) every four years. I support this. Yet, a number of largely ethnic minority populated wards have hitherto been excepted from this rule. The argument being that asian communities will not vote for women candidates. I do not agree.

The time has come for us to encourage more women to take part in democracy as, if I am not mistaken, slightly more than half the population of Birmingham and our country is female. And women play a huge role in society that goes largely unrecognised.

This argument that if a woman stands in an inner-city ward in Birmingham made up of largely ethnic minorities she will not win the seat is nonsense. I won by a majority of nearly 4,000 in my inner city ward because I was a Labour candidate. Not because I am male, or because I am of a particular ethnic origin. The election of Cllr. Tony Kennedy in Sparkbrook (white candidate in the ward with possibly the highest ethnic minority population in Birmingham) clearly endorses this argument. Despite what our egos may want to believe, the Labour rose is what puts votes on the ballot paper.

So, if a man can win by a majority of nearly 8,000 in Washwood Heath, I am certain that a woman can win the seat. The same can be said in Aston, Bordesley Green and Springfield, as well as other inner city seats.

It’s time for our ethnic minority communities to “get with the project”, in particular Birmingham’s Muslim community. Just look at what Shabana Mahmood MP, Cllr. Yvonne Mosquito, Cllr. Paulette Hamilton, Cllr. Penny Holbrook et al have achieved. They are role models for young girls growing up in Birmingham, and we need to bring through more role models from to encourage all sections of the community to participate in our democracy.

Shabana’s election to the House of Commons last year was so well received from all sections of the community. We need more “Shabanas”. The Birmingham Labour group is currently chaired by Cllr. Yvonne Mosquito. We need more Yvonnes out in the community engaging with other females and encouraging them to become the “next Yvonne”.

The West Midlands regional office has held a number of training sessions for women who may want to consider standing for election. The Birmingham Labour party needs to follow this through to ensure that no ward in which an AWS is due is denied its entitement under Labour rules to elect a women. There should be no special dispensation from representation.

Waseem Zaffar is Labour councillor for Lozells & East Handsworth ward.

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Real lessons from the actual doorstep

16/05/2011, 12:00:44 PM

by Tom Keeley

One year after a general election defeat, a resurgent Labour party has taken 800 council seats. With the exception of Scotland, up and down the country people are back in love with Labour.  People are hearing and agreeing with the party message that we are “your voice in tough times”.

Those parts of the electorate who briefly flirted with the Tories are repentantly coming back.  An unpopular prime minister has been replaced with a fresh credible opposition leader, with new ideas.  National control is all but a certainty in 4 years time.  Right?  Well the doorsteps of Birmingham suggest something different.

The Birmingham city council elections were a success for the Labour party.  Lib Dem and Tory seats were taken in equal number.  Not one seat was lost.  Some wards considered safe Tory strongholds like Harborne and Edgbaston were taken, or pushed to the absolute wire.

However, even amongst this unqualified success, the message from the doors and the phones was a mixed one and certainly not the message above. We must listen and learn from the feedback on the doorstep. (more…)

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Wednesday News Review

02/03/2011, 06:28:56 AM

Steady on Dave

David “Child of Thatcher” Cameron straining to mimic the gung-ho Iron Lady is dangerous. Desperate Dave, badly rattled over the incompetent coalition’s mishandling of the Libyan crisis, has come out fighting and suddenly appears to relish a war of his own. He threatens to unleash fire and brimstone, a Flashman vowing to send in the bits of the armed forces he hasn’t sacked or sent to the breakers yard. Cameron talks of a no-fly zone while at the same time firing pilots and turning the lead aircraft carrier, an HMS Ark Royal he decommissioned, into a floating heliport on the Thames for City wide boys. And he’s off his Downing Street rocker if he’s considering putting British boots on North African soil. The quickest, surest way of uniting Libya – uniting it against Britain – would be to put the poor bloody infantry into Benghazi and Sabha and Tobruk to bomb a North African nation to freedom. So Cameron’s guilty of a catastrophic miscalculation if, behind the privacy of that famous black door at No10, he thinks for a second that Libya could be his Falklands, Colonel Gaddafi a General Galtieri to put to the sword. Spill British blood on the streets of Tripoli and Libya will be his Iraq, a conflict to destroy trust in Cameron as fatally as invading Mesopotomia proved for Tony Blair. Has Cameron learned nothing from recent history? Government “sources” are even briefing that Gadaffi has chemical weapons. The British response to the wave of unrest sweeping North Africa and the Middle East needs a cool head not a hot head in power. But it’s never too late to adopt a foreign policy “with an ethical ­dimension”, as Robin Cook put it. And there would be nothing ethical about Cameron sending young British men to die in a North Africa military adventure. – Kevin Maguire, Daily Mirror

David Cameron has stressed that the UK and international allies must plan “for every eventuality” in Libya, though he appeared to play down suggestions that the UK might directly arm opposition forces. The prime minister said Britain’s immediate focus was to exert maximum effort to “isolate and pressurise” Muammar Gaddafi’s regime, during a brief press conference held with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, who is visiting London. Pressed on the situation in Libya and the plans being put in place to ramp up the pressure on Gaddafi to step down, Cameron said it was the job of leaders and presidents to “look around the corner” and plan for every eventuality. He vowed that the Libyan people “would not be left to their fate” in the face of some “very immediate dangers” from Gaddafi. But pressed to give further details of comments made on Monday to the Commons in which he said that the government “should consider” arming the opposition, the prime minister applied more measured tones. But Cameron did not rule out the need for military action on the ground, if Gaddafi continued to use violence against his own people. European leaders are likely to meet towards the end of next week to discuss how to broaden and strengthen sanctions against the Libyan regime in an attempt to force Gaddafi to step down, according to the prime minister’s spokesman. – the Guardian

Calamity Clegg

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has been mocked in the Commons over his decision to go on holiday while David Cameron was on an official overseas trip. Mr Clegg was forced to cut short a family skiing trip to the upmarket Swiss resort Davos to help tackle the crisis in Libya while the Prime Minister toured the Middle East. He also came under fire after saying he ‘forgot’ that he was running the country while Mr Cameron was away, prompting one Labour MP to ask: ‘What is the point of Nick Clegg?’ At Commons question time John Mann (Bassetlaw) said he was the ‘first Deputy Prime Minister in British history to fail to turn up to work when the Prime Minister’s abroad for a week. I think I am wanting to ask: what’s the point of Nick Clegg?’ he added. Mr Clegg told him: ‘In the end I spent I think just short of two days, working days, away last week and as soon as it was obvious that I was needed here I returned.’ Last week, when asked if he was in charge of the country by Metro, Mr Clegg was quoted as saying: ‘Yeah, I suppose I am. I forgot about that.’ – Daily Mail

Question Time with Nick Clegg was awful, grim, nerve-shreddingly ghastly. You yearned for him to wake up, sweat soaking his pillow, realising it had all been a horrible dream, a mother’s soothing hand on his brow. I wondered if the bullies felt some remorse. Did they ask themselves what it must be like for an innocent, vulnerable man to face such torment? Was there a twinge of conscience that they had made life so hellish for someone so unable to cope with their abuse? At the same time, do we not suspect that the victim covertly accepts, even welcomes, his fate? Mr Clegg seemed unprepared for what he must have known was coming, like someone playing on a railway track who is astonished to spot the 10.40 from Euston. It all started quietly, with questions about the plan for voters to recall an MP who has broken the rules. Labour’s Roberta Blackman-Woods wanted to know if MPs could be recalled by voters for breaking their promises and, if so, how many Lib Dem MPs . The rest of her words were lost in a delighted roar. Mr Clegg said the bill would deal only with “serious wrongdoing”. “Exactly!” yelled a dozen more Labour MPs. A Labour voice shouted: “Only two minutes left!” Bang on the hour, the Speaker ended the misery. – the Guardian

No cuts to the frontline Mr Pickles?

Unions and workers yesterday reacted with anger as £320million of cuts were approved by Birmingham city council. The Tory-Lib Dem authority has signed off the biggest cutbacks in council history, with 43 of 60 youth centres to close, children’s services cut by £69million, home care removed for 11,000 elderly and disabled residents and 2,500 job losses. Tracey Mooney, a day centre officer in the city, said yesterday: “This is a scandal. The public will be outraged when they are paying for the bankers’ crisis.” Other cuts will see £5.2million taken from organisations which help vulnerable pupils, while free school travel is being largely withdrawn. Adults who use social care fare no better, with £35million of cutbacks. Birmingham Labour MP Jack Dromey accused the council of “implementing cuts with glee”. He said: “These budget cuts are the biggest ever, but the council are the only ones smiling.” Low-paid workers in the city, the tenth most deprived part of England, will also be hit, some losing up to £3,150 a year. – Daily Mirror

The harshest spending cuts in Birmingham City Council’s 173-year history have been approved as Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors agreed to slash public services by £212 million. A long and rowdy council meeting heard claims that next year’s budget would unfairly hit pensioners, children and the poor, while leaving thousands of vulnerable elderly people to rely on the private and voluntary sectors for social care in future. At least 2,500 full-time council jobs are set to go over the next year, while staff also face pay freezes or cuts. By 2015, more than 10,000 full and part time council employees can expect to have lost their jobs or have been transferred to work for co-operatives. The city’s back office army of administrators – clerks and finance officers – will be cut by a third as improved new technology makes their jobs redundant. But council tax bills will be frozen this year, bringing some relief to hard-pressed householders. Coun Whitby (Con Harborne) drew jeers from a packed public gallery when he insisted that cutting spending would not necessarily lead to poorer services. Describing the budget as a cuts package was wrong because it implied “callous insensitivity”, he said. Opposition Labour group leader Sir Albert Bore said the budget meant “those with the least will suffer the most”. He proposed alternative methods of finding savings, including an 8.75 per cent pay cut for 80 top council officers and a 15 per cent pay cut for chief executive Stephen Hughes, who earned more than £200,000 last year. – Birmingham Mail

Is Ed onto something?

Ed Miliband is beginning to get somewhere. Labour is up to 43 per cent in the polls. So far that has mostly been the result of the unpopularity of the Coalition. But with Ed’s speech yesterday’s at the Resolution Foundation, Labour has found a chord that resonates. Quite simply, while most of us are getting poorer, those with young families on middle incomes are especially hard hit. And it is largely this Government’s fault. Obviously we need to reduce the deficit, and Labour has not put forward an alternative way of doing it. As George Osborne’s Guardian op-ed today convincingly argues, Labour’s overall stance is still about as realistic as a promise to give every six-year-old a unicorn. But while that is true, the Government has chosen to concentrate its cuts on middle-income families. Increasing VAT, cutting child benefit and EMA and allowing councils to cut services like libraries are all, individually, defensible policies. A 40 year-old man earning £44,000 with a mortgage and two children is not rich – in fact, he is quite average. Payments such as child benefit and EMA help even out that generational divide. And by cutting them, George Osborne has walked straight into the nasty-party trap. It is too late to reverse course; U-turning on forests is one thing, but on the entire deficit plan quite another. If Labour can come up with a credible policy that plays to young families on middle incomes, then George Osborne will have reason to worry. – Daily Telegraph

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A Labour activist at Tory conference, by Amanda Ramsay

08/10/2010, 04:00:10 PM

Tory activists flocked to their annual political pilgrimage in Birmingham this week, for David Cameron’s first party conference as Prime Minister. Despite 13 years of opposition leading to a coalition rather than a Conservative government, this was a big moment for Tory activists. But for a paid-up member of the Labour party, the prospect of attending my first ever Tory conference filled me with dread. Politics is nothing if not tribal and the prospect felt so alien.

Once in Birmingham, the atmosphere was much the same as the intoxicating buzz of most Labour conferences in recent memory, other than 2010 perhaps, the leadership election having engulfed proceedings. However, there were some distinct differences about the Conservative version.

For starters, the exhibition itself had a bizarre array of interest groups, hard to imagine at a Labour conference: the British fur trade association, countryside alliance and Carlton club to name but three. Harvey Nichols also had a stand as did Crombie, offering made-to-measure clothing for ladies and gents. I don’t think we have a Harvey Nicks at our conference. (more…)

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