Day three and Conference is beginning to feel like Glastonbury. My guide is battered mess of ringed events I’ve missed, I keep losing my friends and I’ve started using wet wipes. I’ve still to see any speeches in the main hall, the conference equivalent of the pyramid stage. I had planned on going to see Ed’s big speech today, but it transpires, political events are not like queing for Westlife tickets, you can’t just turn up early and hope to get in, I need to have booked a ticket. I have not booked a ticket.
Yesterday, I made it to my first proper talk, a Friends of Israel discussion about the future of their country. I am thrilled, I’ve always wanted to have an actual proper opinion on the Middle East, or at least one that lasted longer than the last opinion I’d heard. The event is in grotty bar, that I recognise from usually being a comedy venue. The food is great, dessert making its first conference appearance with a white chocolate cheesecake so good, I’m pretty sure it could solve the troubled regions problems itself.
The talk starts, I’m hungover and my mind wanders. There are a lot of facts and figures, talk of investments by the Israeli government in marginal communities. It feels like I’m falling into a column at the back of the Spectator. Then two minutes in, my mind snaps to attention when a woman suddenly stands up and shouts “Shame! This is nonsense, you’re not telling me anything I don’t already know” and leaves. The crowd is startled and I can’t believe there’s heckling at a proper political event. I begin to feel guilty and paranoid. Maybe like the European sailors bringing TB to the Native Americans I have somehow infected this cerebral debate with my stand up comedy germs? Maybe she just hadn’t tried the cheesecake? Then the speech begins again. The problem with the Middle East is that Palestine wants an independent country but Israel doesn’t trust that such a state wouldn’t be taken over by extremists. Israel needs to show Palestine that they are serious about giving them independence, Palestine needs to show Israel that such a state wouldn’t pose a risk to their safety. My mind pings- I think I actually finally understand the situation. I feel like standing up and shushing the crowd and telling everyone to be silent, just in case I lose it again.
After that it’s off to a Labour Next talk, an organisation that promotes progressive young people in the party. A young parliamentary worker speaks passionately about the work EMA, Educational Maintenance allowances have made to young people’s lives. He stresses that although it is an important legacy of the last labour government, very few Labour MPs actually know about it. There are he says, more MPS from Eton is parliament than from working class backgrounds. He is the only researcher working on his corridor not from Cambridge or Oxford and that standing for Parliament costs over fifteen hundred pound. That is nothing ,I want to shout, the average Edinburgh show costs ten grand and we have to go there every bloody year, but I keep my mouth shut.
Afterwards I speak to some of the Labour Next members and their frustration with Ed Balls speech is palpable. Where is the ambition? Where is the passion? We shouldn’t keep calm and carry on, that quant phrase everywhere at the moment, we should be getting involved and angry. We are like the frogs in the boiling water not noticing what’s going on.
Afterwards we all trip back to the conference centre. I speak to a young woman , a labour member but currently unemployed. The problem with Labour is, she says, they don’t really like young people or ideas. She was excited about Ed Milliband but now he feels like a disappointment. As we pass through security the man in front of her trips and the contents of his bag spill. My new friend helps him pick up his belongings and discovers he is a member of the House of Lords in need of a researcher. Cards are exchanged and a conference miracle occurs.
It’s now near midnight, and I am exhausted and ready for an early night. Like Edinburgh, midnight feels like going home very early. Just before I leave I see Hugh Grant wander across the courtyard with Tom Watson fresh from a phone hacking debate. I follow him as he enters the conference building and down the escalators. He is like a breeze moving through the crowd, creating waves of nervous giggles and smiles. Just before he disappears into the Guardian invitation only party I shout out “ Hugh- you need to get back together with Liz!” but I don’t think he hears me.