Friday, 5 October 2012

Mrs Angry went to Manchester: Part Two, Rebuilding Britain, and a load of Balls


So ... Mrs Angry left the fragrant foyer of the Radisson hotel, on Sunday afternoon, and made her way through the Manchester drizzle to the conference centre entrance just yards away, outside which she was to meet fellow blogger Citizen Barnet at a lobby against NHS cuts. 

This demonstration was a rare intrusion into the life of the conference, as it turned out, by any live, unorchestrated expression of dissent, or protest. Not to denigrate the powerful testimonies of some of the speakers, for example, during the NHS debate, but still one could not help wonder if the real heart of the Labour movement and even, sshhh, a whiff of socialist fervour (are we still allowed to mention that, in the conference hall?) was waiting outside the high security gates of the compound.


That there was a lobby was about the NHS 'reforms' was no surprise, but it gave an indication of the rapidly rising strength of fury and fear emerging from all over the country and from all parts of the political spectrum over the future of our healthcare system.

Mrs Angry and Citizen Barnet joined other Barnet folk in the rather nice Waterhouse pub near the fabulous Town Hall, designed by the architect of that name. The contingent from Barnet was large: five councillors and various party activists, and we had an entertaining time in Manchester, didn't we?

 Citizen Barnet, outside t'Town Hall

By Monday morning Mrs Angry acknowledged that she could no longer avoid the inevitable, and was obliged to go and see what was happening behind the closed gates of the conference itself. 

The theme for the beginning of the conference was 'Rebuilding Britain', because of course Britain is broken, and not just Broken Barnet. How we are going to rebuild everything was explained: by the magic powers given to us by Danny Boyle, see, and thank you very much. But that was later, Mrs Angry: spoilers.

Watched some of the 'Britain in the World' debate, some good speeches from Jim Murphy, and Doug Alexander, who referred to the Tories as 'unreconciled to the modern world', a thought that certainly resonates here in Broken Barnet, where time stood still thirty years ago. Having said that, sitting at the end of the row of seats was a very odd looking woman who looked as if she was a ghostly relic of the 1930s: wearing a sharply cut vintage suit, with pill box hat and accessories, her hair in a French bun. Perhaps she was waiting for the Clement Attlee moment in Ed's speech.

Largely, it was apparent that most of the debates at these events consist of the converted preaching to the converted, and all very well, but heavily engineered to fit a template, the chosen themes. What was alarming was the predominence of the aspirational young men in suits, and the lack of minority representation. There were also always empty seats in the hall. The conclusion may inevitably be that the party is not reaching out to the widest sectors of its natural membership - or perhaps few can afford to attend, or even want to attend, this staged event, full as it is of too many aspiring career politicians and would be spin merchants, rather than party activists. Hello, Mrs Angry, you are in danger of sounding like Nadine Dorries: stop there.

One speaker proved the exception to this rule, anyway: here was an old school Labour voice, using the terms sisters, brothers: comrades. Len McCluskey, from Unite, urged the shadow Cabinet to come out of the shadows, to be louder, clearer, to fight harder ... and everyone appplauded politely,  and relegated him in their minds to the shadowlands of history. Union politics, old school, are not sexy. They smell of fags, and beer, and sandwiches, and the lost world of industry and manual labour. They are not sufficiently virtual, and abstract.

Ed Balls next. Mrs Angry took an unreasonable dislike to him, and his speech, and so let's move on, shall we? Except to say that his excited announcement that Labour would be co opting the services of the man responsible for organising the Olympics' infrastructure was a warning of what was to come. Yep: jumping on the Olympic bandwagon, kidnapping Danny Boyle & holding him in the tightest embrace, within an inch of his life: that was the way things were going. Mrs Angry sighed.


One morning in the conference hall had already proved too long: Mrs A decided to bunk off, and slipped away (oh, ok, via Harvey Nicks, yes) - to the Peoples' History Museum.

This was a terrific place, really: you must go. Try not to be worried by the exhibition extolling the virtues of temperance - a habit that appeared to be largely disregarded in Manchester last week - the permanent display is packed full with interesting artefacts: the earliest miners' union banner, suffragette material, relics of the Chartist era - and Peterloo. 

In the foyer of the museum, as Mrs Angry arrived, there was, rather to her dismay, some sort of reception of Labour party officials, yes, all in suits, a load of young ex public schoolboys hanging around awkwardly, trying to find some sort of right to identify with the theme of the collection around them. Clearly, it was a struggle, surrounded by the ephemera and memorabilia of the Labour movement, before there was a Labour movement.

One can only wonder if, in a hundred years time, our great grandchildren will come to the museum, and gaze in wonder at some spad's i pad, or a menu from a corporate sponsored fund raising political event at the Midland Hotel. Not quite the same, is it? 

The people's history is no longer the history of the Labour Party: and here seems to be the problem - a party which sprang from the struggle of the working classes has been hi jacked or at least its leadership has been, by the middle classes, and the upper middle classes at that. Of course you cannot change the course of history, or stop a movement from evolving as it will, and no doubt the party would never have been elected if it had not embraced the culture of the bourgeoisie, but look around this museum, at the banners, and the posters, and all the fading mementoes of our earlier beginnings, and if you tell me we have not lost something very precious in the process, well: I cannot agree with you.


baarnett said...

Well, I'll go to the foot of our stairs!

But weren't there any fringe events, full of the cut and thrust of real debate, and with blue-sky thinking? (Blue? Hello, Mrs Angry, I'm in danger of sounding like Nadine Dorries: stop there.)

Mrs Angry said...

yes, yes, Baarnett ... coming up soon ... well, a fringe event with a lot of free booze, and the Barnet Bugle, if that counts ...