Brighton has been the location of many great traditions: an annual holiday destination for many families, a weekend outing for the 60s Mods. But this week Brighton played host to an even greater one – Labour’s annual Party Conference. For the first time, I became one of the people making this journey by becoming a steward.
There are many benefits of seeing conference through the eyes of a steward. Travel and hotel expenses are paid for, up to a limit, and the party pay you the London living wage for your work. You also get an ‘access all areas’ pass so are able to enter the conference hall with ease.
However the work is tiring when you are on your feet for 9 hours, and you start early so a very late night out is not an option if you’re not Baroness Thatcher-esque in terms of sleeping efficiency. Seeing fringe events in the day is also more difficult, although if you schedule your lunch break right it is possible to see a few.
Despite this, your evenings are your own free time where you can search for events giving away free food and booze (and there are many of them) and if you are not shattered after all that then you can go on to some of the events held in clubs at night.
Being someone who is a bit of a celeb spotter (although not as much as Luke ‘Nigel Farage’ Rigg), one of my favourite parts was seeing all the politicians and journalists I’d seen on TV in the flesh. From the current cabinet I saw the Eagle sisters, Sadiq Khan and deputy leader Harriet Harman, to name but a few. It almost made up for missing Harman at Transport House once… Some of the old guard were there too, including Alistair Darling, John Prescott, and Alistair Campbell, who didn’t seem too impressed when I offered him a bag. You could also feel a constant media presence with cameras all around you, and I began to really appreciate how much technique politicians have to deliver interviews to camera.
I also got the opportunity to see snippets of a few speeches, including ones by Ed Balls, Andy Burnham and the recently ennobled Doreen Lawrence. There was a great atmosphere in the hall and I only wish I had more time to sit down and listen to them properly. Fortunately I got the chance to watch Ed Milliband’s speech. Again this was a fantastic experience, although not for my feet, as I had to stand up throughout it, but to actually be in the room and participate in the standing ovations and rounds of applause was like nothing I’d ever witnessed before. It was also great to hear some of our policies for the next election and have a solid message to deliver on the doorstep.
So overall, although I think I will need to hibernate for the next few days, my first conference was an excellent experience. It gives you a chance to witness party politics firsthand from the networking to the speeches, pick up some freebies including my very own paperweight version of this http://action.labour.org.uk/page/s/energy-calculator – and have a few great nights out along the way.
P.S. Some other observations: Brighton’s beach is lovely to relax on after a shift, Owen Jones is a nice guy to talk to (if only very briefly) and I didn’t hear anyone discussing the Damian McBride stories that were supposed to be the ‘talk of conference’, despite what the media said. Instead, as Peter Hain quite rightly said, delegates were focused on what the public care about: ‘growth, jobs, the bedroom tax, and childcare.’
Kathryn Brooke is Warwick Labour Secretary