I’LL BE Manchester-bound tomorrow, and it’s shaping up to be a busy few days for me. Nevertheless, I always look forward to it and love seeing old friends and comrades.
My first experience of national (as opposed to Scottish) Labour conference was Brighton 1989, when I was Cathcart Labour Party’s delegate. This was at the height of the anti-poll tax protests and Labour was trying to establish itself as a responsible government-in-waiting. Consequently, the party was determined not to be railroaded into a position of encouraging people to refuse to pay the tax. I decided I would try to get called from the floor in the debate. Dennis Skinner was in the chair. Whether he called me because I was holding up a copy of “Labour Left Briefing” (printed on bright red paper) or not, I really don’t know. I was nervous, but exhilerated, and my three minutes went well. The then Shadow Scottish Secretary, Donald Dewar, took me for lunch immediately afterwards and I even featured in that evening’s Reporting Scotland. The icing on the cake was the catcalls and jeers from our resident Trots at the time.
A year later I was back at conference, this time in Blackpool, as a member of staff, having been appointed just a few weeks earlier as press officer to the party in Scotland. For three years in succession I worked on the dreaded late accreditation desk, organising passes for the surprisingly large number of journalists, photographers and broadcasting technicians who hadn’t bothered applying for credentials in time. The rest of each week was spent briefing Scottish journalists and taking my turn behind the party’s press desk – unbelievably busy. That was the hardest I’ve ever worked outside of general elections.
Then the wilderness years arrived. My involvement in the party was less for various reasons, and it wasn’t until 1999 that I was back at conference, this time as an exhibitor, working for the Passenger Transport Executive Group (PTEG).
But I have no doubt that the best way to enjoy conference is as a back bench MP – no obligation to vote, attend debates or speak, you spend your whole time swanning round meeting people and being bought food and drink. And you can pick and choose which (if any) fringe meetings you want to attend.
As a minister at conference, everyone wants a piece of you, so to speak, and my diary this year, sadly, leaves precious little time (during the day at least) for swanning.
There will be plenty of gossip (as there always is), some arguing, a lot of fun and, perhaps, a small dry white wine with dinner.
And I’ll be blogging as often as I can.