Saturday, 6 October 2012

Mrs Angry in Manchester: Part Three: the kindness of strangers



So the theme of the Labour conference, up to now, see, had been 'Rebuilding Britain', and we had been wondering how we were going to do this, hadn't we, but on Tuesday morning, we realised that the best way to do it is not through political engagement or debate, but to pretend we are still holding the Olympics, and bang on about it, and explain that winning a medal for jumping over something quite high is a Good Example To Others, and remind people, by the way, that it was a Labour administration who won the games in the first place.

And of course it was a Labour Mayor who won the games in the first place, and Mrs Angry spotted that Labour Mayor sitting below her, rather forlornly, completely overlooked in all the backslapping and showing off that went on on stage. Poor Ken: the spectre at the feast.

Still, one very good thing about all this was that it completely takes the wind out of the Tory sails as their conference will be but a silver medal in the political legacy stakes, conference wise, anyway ... the same theme is going to look rather old hat next week in Birmingham, isn't it?

 Amongst the celebs and athletes rolled out on stage to join in this Team GB event was, to Mrs Angry's great annoyance, Lord Coe. Everyone became very excited at his appearance, except for Mrs A and one obstinate old man, both of whom sat sulkily in their seats and refused to stand up and applaud a fecking Tory politician on a Labour conference stage.

Coe looked slightly ill at ease in this foreign territory, although to be honest, he and most of the shadow cabinet politicians are pretty interchangeable in style and could belong to either/all parties.

Eddie Izzard explained to the Labour conference that our triumph in the Olympics meant that with such a mindset, ie being quite good at jumping over things that are quite high, or long, we could change the world. We listened gratefully to his words of wisdom and penetrating analysis, based as it is on many years of experience of world politics, sporting prowess and stand up comedy. There would most probably, Mrs Angry thought, optimistically, be no need now for Ed Miliband to make his speech to conference later, which would neatly avert the unpleasant introduction of political debate into the proceedings.

If only, but no, alas, the leader's address was still on. We joined the queue for a seat and waited an eternity in line, distracted only by the performance next to us of a display by possibly the most useless guide dog in the UK, who seemed very unimpressed by the buzzing atmosphere of conference, and just wanted to eat biscuits, lie down and sleep, instead of doing anything: rather like Mrs Angry, below.


 

To cheer everyone up, Mrs Angry volunteered her local councillor, Kath McGuirk, to take part in the display, playing the role of an obstacle, which is a natural role for her, as indeed it is for Mrs Angry, trained as we were by the Sisters of the Poor Child Jesus in extreme obstinacy, answering back, and generally being a nuisance. We had a interesting discussion in the pub the next day, in fact, about the peculiar sex education we received from the nuns at our school, and how this misinformation had led to the birth of several children, between us, without, in the case of Mrs Angry anyway, any idea whatsoever as to what had caused them. (If I ever did find out, I have forgotten now. Please do get in touch if you think you know the answer.)


At this point in the proceedings, the news broke that the Barnet Bugle had landed, and former Tory councillor, now turned blogger, Dan Hope, had arrived in Manchester. Please note, Famous Five: here is a first - later that day, he bought Mrs Angry a drink - see:




There is quite a lot of drink, unfortunately, at these events, as will be explained later, but sitting through the plenary sessions at conference is enough to drive the most fervently temperance minded political delegate to over indulgence, to be frank. Actually, Barnet Bugle: where was Frank? 

Ok, the speech. Well, you will have read all about it, so no need to tell you, really. It was an accomplished performance, for sure. Ed Miliband neatly drew together the disparate threads of the themes touched on in the conference so far, using his own family background as the connecting framework, the background as a child of Jewish immigrants fleeing persecution,  dependent, as he said, on the kindness of strangers, on to the Olympic spirit, He poured scorn on the Tories' record of incompetence and spoke passionately about the one issue which terrifies us all: the threat to our NHS, and then aha, via Disraeli, who had spoken next door at yes, the Free Trade Hall, before it realised it should be a Radisson hotel, and here comes something new, something borrowed, something blue, and here we have a new partnership: a coming together of Two Nations into One Nation. Well, that's nice, isn't it?

Good speech, sincere: if only he carried the authority and gravitas a leader needs, and the ability to inspire people. He doesn't quite, yet. He is a slight man, and moves awkwardly on stage: and please, please: someone make him get a fecking hair cut. Perhaps he will acquire the qualities he lacks still, or perhaps people will like him the way he is, in time. Or not.

After a short interlude with other Barnet pals in a rather old fashioned pub nearby, the Briton's Protection, the Barnet Bugle and Mrs Angry moved on to a fringe event organised by Hacked Off, debating the implications of a post Leveson world. Amongst the hacks at Hacked off was David Hencke, who has, gratifyingly, made a flipping nuisance of himself in Broken Barnet, from time to time, but panicked, as usual, as soon as he saw Mrs Angry, and tried to make a run for it, but was not quite quick enough. 

Harriet Harman drifted in and made an impromptu speech, which you can see here:

   

On the panel, interestingly, as well as Tom Watson, who seemed to be everywhere in Manchester, (have I mentioned the karaoke? Best not, probably) was Christopher Jeffries, the teacher caught up in the Joanna Yates murder case, and treated so shabbily by the tabloid press. He once taught a Barnet blogger: can you guess which one? 

After a couple of unexpected diversions, Mrs Angry and various other Barnet visitors ended up, later, at the Midland Hotel for the Labour Friends of Israel reception. Ed Miliband and his wife turned up, and he made a short speech, which, at close proximity, suddenly made him seem rather more ordinary and likeable than from his conference performance. Mrs Angry then somehow fell into conversation with Rachel Reeves, who holds a shadow cabinet Treasury post, and in Mrs Angry's view, volunteered to her, would make an excellent party leader, and is it not time, after all,  for a female Labour leader?

 

By this time, the effects of rather a lot of wine, and no food, was having a visible effect on certain parties from Broken Barnet, and so Mrs Angry cannot quite remember how or why she, the Barnet Bugle, and some random bloke wandering out of the gents ended up having a half hour discussion with Jon Snow about Ed's speech, and the need to engage politically with the younger generations who who appear to be totally alienated from the traditional political process. 

So the next day, anyway, Mrs Angry woke with a bit of a headache, and stayed in bed as long as possible, before packing up, and wandering over to the conference centre for her last session. And this was to prove the most rewarding moment in the whole conference: the debate on the NHS. This above all is the issue which speaks to the soul of the nation, the conscience of the nation, one nation, two nations: everyone of us.

One recurrent theme throughout many speeches here and elsewhere is the contempt that everyone feels for the Libdems in selling their souls for a role in the Coalition government, but the responsibility they bear for supporting the NHS 'reformfs' is on a different level altogether, and is never, ever going to be forgotten, or forgiven, as speaker after speaker attested. Libdems, electorally speaking, you are so over: crawl back to your constituencies and prepare to die.

The speakers at this debate gave their testimonies, and how powerful they were: from Professor Robert Winston, appearing first godlike, in a film, floating in heavenly blue skies, and then in person, with solemnity, and a quiet authority; singing coach Carrie Grant striking a particular note with Mrs Angry, talking of her dependency on the NHS, due to her own health demands, and those of her children and mother, and then a regional health director, spoke and pointed out that in fact the reorganisation of the NHS was not meant to work, it was meant to fail, to create new commerical opportunities. 

A university lecturer in healthcare mentioned the huge pressures and even cash bribes offered to gps to cut their referrals - something that is happening even now here in Broken Barnet, and if this disturbs you, Mrs Angry urges you to inform Mr Mike Freer, if he is your MP, that you disagree with his brown nosing support of the government plans ...

Amongst the other speakers, a man from the real north, yes from Easington, and South Hetton, in East Durham, reminded conference of a statement that 'the NHS belongs to the people' - not, as he said, a quote from Trotsky, but the opening of the NHS constitution.

Andy Burnham spoke now: he said it was hard to be a shadow figure against the Invisible Man, hiding behind trees, our new Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, but he pledged that a new Labour Government will repeal the NHS bill, and that at the next election a vote for for Labour will be a vote for the NHS. There was, of course, a standing ovation.

On the train back to London, a little later, in between grilling him about what he was eating, and was he changing his socks, Mrs Angry spoke to her son on the phone about the conference, and the NHS debate earlier that day. As the train approached London, a man sitting nearby leaned over and asked: So - do you think that a Labour government will save the NHS?  He then explained he was a consultant, and had eavesdropped with interest on Mrs Angry's views on the debate. He spoke about his own frustrations at the damage being done to  the NHS, the contracts dropped for budget reasons by healthcare trusts, politically sensitive data becoming unavailable.

As we stepped down from the train, still discussing the NHS, Mrs Angry suggested to him that this issue, above all others, was the one that is going to lose the Tories the next election. That, he said, grimly, is undoubtedly true.

After the NHS debate, Mrs Angry wandered out of the secure zone, into the culture zone of the city art gallery, admiring the Pre-Raphaelite works bought by the Manchester merchants of Cottonopolis, the men who built the Free Trade Hall, and thought then that conservative politics came with a social conscience. How times have changed. Here in Broken Barnet, our Conservative politicians have no use for art, or culture - and a social conscience, if they ever had one, is something they abandoned a long, long time ago. 

Sitting in the foyer of the old Free Trade Hall, later, with a couple of other citizens of Broken Barnet, we sank back in the velvet sofas, and talked about Miliband's speech, and the idea of two nations, becoming One Nation. 

Hmm, said someone, like a Tale of Two Barnets, becoming erm - One Barnet? Oh dear, no. No ...

Looking about at the shell of the old building, a place built in an era of aspiration and the belief in the social benefits brought by industry and commerce, now an overheated, overscented hotel, filled to the brim with career politicians who have no real experience of manual labour, or even perhaps working in the real world, standing here on St Peter's fields, soaked with the blood of people who died asserting their right to electoral representation, you could not avoid the glaringly obvious: here is the answer as to why most of the population is alienated from the political process, and why its only hope of reaching a new generation is through social media, and on the ground, not through the posturing of politicians, or the campaigns of party policy makers, and no, not through the medium of conferences like these.

Time to return to Broken Barnet.



*Musical footnote:

For psychogeographically minded readers, here is an amusing thing, which Mrs Angry thought about, staring up at the ceiling of foyer in the Radisson last week - another act of betrayal, as it was seen at the time, which also took place in Manchester's Free Trade Hall, in 1966: the 'Judas' moment for Bob Dylan, a pivotal moment in the history of rock music, as he abandoned his folk roots for electric guitars & a new direction ...

 

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