So it begins. I board the 8.20 to Liverpool and already comparisons between the Edinburgh Festival and Labour Conference become obvious. Usually its comics at the start of the fringe excitedly tweeting about other comedians they’ve just spotted in the train up, this time its party delegates giddily waving at each other in cyberspace. If the comparisons continue, this should descend into retweeting positive speech reviews, slagging off their conference venue before tweeting emotional, tired messages about wanting it all to be over so they can go home.
Liverpool itself seems indifferent to the conference. Shoppers mill about the high street seemingly oblivious to the news that David Milliband has unexpectedly been confirmed at a fringe event this evening. The event has now become the hottest ticket of the night, electrifying the party faithful and selling out despite its status as a free event . Curiously the que I am in at Primark seem nonplussed about this latest Miliband development, the shoppers move about as if unaware the seismic affect this will have on the delicate conference power balance; perhaps they’re simply still in shock.
Entry to the Convention centre is through a barrage of self conscious twenty somethings handing out flyers for fringe events. In Edinburgh flyerers tend to be hungover, middle class drama students, blamed for the break up of many comics relationships. I wonder if these nervous looking men and women in suits are also dismissed in party circles as predatory hussies; only here to shag the MPs. I really hope not.
The centre itself is divided into lecture rooms for speeches and stalls like the type of you’d find at your local business convention. It reminds me of wandering around bored on a rainy Sunday trying to find stands that give out free rulers and photocopying paper. The stands themselves are a weird mixture of altruism, lobby groups and corporate pitches. Beside the Morning Star stand, there’s a stall selling novelty dolls and beside that a Justice For Colombia table detailing atrocities committed by it’s government . Incredibly, I have been here two hours and I have not managed to blag anything free yet. The nearest I get is a Tesco stand giving out free curry samples but it’s so swarmed by sheepish looking middle aged men ,I don’t bother.
My first convention celeb spot is hot in every sense of the word young MP Chuka Umunna being interviewed by John Harris, looking more delicate and skinny in person. I then pick out Neil Kinnock and he reminds me of a sun burnt , slightly melted Chris Tarrent. Andrew Neill is tetchily giving some lines to camera, surrounded by excited delegates unselfconsciously staring open mouthed at the BBC broadcaster. He looks like a grumpy orange head teacher and I can imagine in a film he’d be played by an Australian character actor you’d kind of heard of but couldn’t place. His hair has the copper brilliance of a rusting brillo pad. People wander into shot and I worry he is about to do a Christian Bale on the middle-aged delegates ruining his VTs. It had always been an ambition of mine to join him in The Ivy for gossip over long cocktails, but seeing him in the flesh convinces me I can maybe live without ticking that particular ambition off my list.
The men all seem to be dressed in identical dark grey suits, with the occasional flash of a waggish red tie, like a People’s Republic of China uniform designed by Marks and Spencer. The women are all dressed sombrely as if they’re waiting for an important corporate job interview. It’s a depressing sight; no one wanting to stand out, to look different, all dressed like the type of respectable successful politician they imagine in their head. There’s a palpable yearning to be taken seriously that oppresses the room like an energy sapping fog. Everybody seems stressed and slightly uncomfortable. There’s little eye contact and it feels like the first day at school. If this conference is anything like Edinburgh what this place needs are some hangovers, some scandal and possibly a good fight for things to get settled in. With David, Ed and their rival supporters in the same town tonight, fingers crossed we get all three.