UK Politics

Labour Conference Diary: Why Liverpool Is Ghastly

27 Sep 2011 at 20:16

  • There is always one politician who goes totally over the top and loses credibility at a party conference. We all remember Michael Portillo’s ‘Who Dares Wins’ speech in 1996. Last week it was Tim Farron’s turn. This week Ivan Lewis has covered himself in glory by suggesting that there should be a state register for journalists. A madder idea I haven’t heard in years. In case you don’t know, he is Labour’s Culture, Media & Sport secretary. And all I can say is, oh dear. Lewis had a good hacking inquiry, but on this he is so very wrong. It appears Labour’s authoritarian tendency hasn’t quite been eradicated. It’s so easy for politicians to go over the top on issues like this. The trouble for Ivan Lewis is that he is unlikely to find many people following him.
  • Last night was a first. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown was in front of a microphone for half an hour and didn’t utter a word. To be fair, it was because she had come to take me out to dinner after my LBC show finished, but I was astonished she didn’t try to intervene in a rather sparky discussion I was hosting with three young Labour thinkers (Richard Angell, Owen Jones and Rowenna Davis). So, ten o’clock arrived and we went in search of food. Pizza Express (I know how to treat a girl), just outside the conference centre, was our destiny of choice. But its lights were off. It closed at ten, can you believe. And we had no more luck at Jury’s, the conference hotel. Their restaurant closed at ten too. This, despite thousands of people still milling around. Unbelievable. So we went next door to East z East for an Indian, where we were joined by Radio 5 Live’s Richard Bacon and Labour supporting advertising honcho Trevor Beattie. What a fabulous restaurant. I am not a great fan of Indian food, but this was something else. I much enjoyed by chicken shashlick and can highly recommend it! The evening ended strangely, as Richard Bacon kept putting the wrong pin number in the credit card machine. Shame really, as it turned out that Trevor Beattie’s card was in it. Three attempts and his card was invalidated. All Tony Blair’s fault reckoned Yasmin.
  • Look, I’m going to be honest. So far, I have found Liverpool to be a ghastly city. The Albert dock area is lovely, but from what I have seen of the rest of it, it makes Gaza look welcoming. It’s now that I understand perfectly why lots of famous people profess to love Liverpool so much they move away at the first opportunity and never return if they can help it. Driving in on Sunday it was quite apparent that what money the council has had has been blown on regenerating the docks area to the exclusion of everywhere else. There seem to be a large number of second world war bomb sites which haven’t been touched in 60 years. It gives a terrible impression to people visiting for the first time. And then there’s the Adelphi Hotel. A shocker. I vaguely remember watching a fly on the wall documentary about it a few years ago. Believe me, it hasn’t got any better. They are charging £189 a night for a room with no internet, no mini bar, a room service menu which has a choice of two things and which is only available for an hour a day (OK, I exaggerate a little on that) and a TV which was built circa 1976. Oh, and its car park resembles a Kevin Webster style MoT bay. But the bathroom does have a set of bathroom scales, so that’s nice. What an absolute dive of a hotel. I know Liverpool has many fans. A good friend of mine loves the place. She regularly comes here for weekend breaks. God alone knows why. If I never came back again ever, it would be too soon. I suspect the feeling will be mutual after this.
  • It’s interesting to note that there were more lobbyists at the LibDem conference last week than there are here at Labour. Power sells, you see. I remember my days as a lobbyist, having to organise fringes for clients, and then fearing that no one would turn up. They did, of course, but sometimes it was a close run thing.
  • Each year I compile the Daily Telegraph’s Top 100 People on the Left, with Brian Brivati and a panel of Labour insiders. I’m told that Chris Bryant took great delight in telling Ivan Lewis (him again) that he was one place above him in the list published this morning. After Lewis’s speech today, I think that one place might be extended somewhat next year.
  • Sitting here on the LBC table in the media centre I am looking around wondering what on earth the massed ranks of the 150 BBC journalists here actually do all day. Most of them stare at their computer screens and never seem to move from them. I try and make a point of wandering round the conference centre chatting to delegates. But it seems to me that most journalists here just feed off each other and the senior politicians they meet. Ordinary delegates don’t seem to have a role at all. Yet it is they who create the mood and atmosphere at a party conference.
  • Yesterday I chaired a fringe for the Fabian Society on whether there could be a LibDem/Labour coalition after the next election. After an hour and a half’s discussion I did not rush down to Ladbroke’s and put a bet on, I can assure you. Emily Thornberry spent the whole time hissing venom at LibDem MP John Leech and Centre Forum Chief Executive Chris Nicholson, whole Ben Bradshaw made a valiant attempt at being the voice of sweet reason, but to little effect. The audience clearly hated the LibDems just as much as Emily Thornberry. It was fun, though!
  • A BBC journo friend of mine was still in the broadcast centre when Ed Milibad was practising his speech next door in the conference hall last night. Apparently he was being coached in how to wave to the audience as he walks onto the stage. Indeed, so rubbish at it was he, that they made him walk on five times.

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