It is the final night at Conference and that means the notorious Labour student party. I had been expecting great things, in the programme it had thrillingly declared all press banned. What decadent events were to unfold? The two Eds with their tops off jumping around to vintage Oasis? Yvette and Harriet shitfaced in the loos? A slow dance with Andy Burnham? I had high hopes. I started off at midday at a Young Labour talk with Ed Balls. In the flesh, he’s not as rotund as footballing pictures suggest. He even seems quite normal, passionate about tackling Youth Unemployment and much more northern than I thought. Rory Weal, a student that gave a speech that stole the conference’s heart, gets a mention and the room applauds as he waves sheepishly from the back. I wonder how the other labour teenage boys feel about this new superstar in their midst?
After that I finally make it to the big conference hall. People mill about, some listen intently, some read newspapers. Andy Burnham delivers a rousing speech, that’s followed by a moving address from a student from Norway, thanking British Labour for the friendship they showed his country after the massacre.
Next up is Ed’s Big Q and A. He bounds on stage, while Eddie Izzard, Amy Lame and Joan Bakwell, walk around the auditorium taking questions. He wants tough ones, he says, from non Labour members. The questions aren’t very daring, a mention about his brother David aside, and although he seems genuine in wanting to answer them, it’s as if, after years in Westminster he has lost the ability to use language like a normal person. He answers in a way that seems so reasonable, logical and boring you become convinced that its probably what you’d say too. Post operation, his voice is beginning to sound more and more like Tony Blair. He says “listen” in that world weary, lets be honest guys, way his predecessor favoured yet some of his other words sound almost Scottish. It’s like he is TB GB’s baby, New Labours next generation, King James the First to Tony’s Queen Eizabeth and Gordon’s Mary Queen of Scots.
Then it’s off to the Labour Youth reception. The room is full of young party members. The boys mill about excitedly in their matching suits, a few girls are scattered, dressed much more trendily. The boys seem to be trying out their own first political opinions awkwardly and self consciously, like newly grown facial hair. The girls seem much quieter and self contained, with steely confidence the boys lack. Joining a party as a teenagers is like picking regular lottery numbers, you don’t want to quit just in case you could be the one. They want to be spotted, singled out, seen as one to watch. The prize is incredibly seductive; to truly matter, to have your opinion sought, questioned and analysed, to always be at the centre of the action, the focus in the room.
Auntie Harriet Harman takes to the stage and thanks everyone for their work. A teenage boy drunkenly shouts out his love for her. Then Ed sweeps into the room to a round of applause. He criticises the booing of Tony Blair during his speech , then jokingly complains about the Politician Top Trumps cards that have been circulated by Sky News. For attractiveness he only got thirty eight, one above Michael Gove. Somebody shouts out offering to give him a sixty nine if he wants. To chants of “Ed Ed Ed” he leaves the stage and is gone.
Then it’s off to the last night disco. Its disappointingly quiet, things only really kicking off when Things Can Only get Better, blasts from the speakers . The anthem now seems hideously appropriate, in a sad desperate in a way I can’t imagine Peter Mandelson could ever have imagined when I he popped it into his CD player fourteen years ago. Back in opposition, derided by the press, struggling to be taken seriously on the economy, the roomful of Labour emotionally singing along a sad inversion of that famous optimistic election night sing along.
Then, the drinking begins and it feels like a cork has been popped. Seeing young politicians drunk is like witnessing a Labrador try alcopops for the first time. They hug, they jump, they follow you around the night club. After a whole week of being grown ups, they finally seem their age.
So how do they compare, the worlds of comedy and stand up? Both strange never never lands, where private passion meets hard headed careerism, populated by insecure people searching for acceptance. One gets on stage to tell you how things can get better, the other reveals how bad it can get. One populated by eternal children, the other kids dressing like their Dad.
At the train station this morning I drag myself onto the London bound train and bump into a young labour person collecting his tickets. We are both similar ages, at similar stages in our career, both probably nursing similar hangovers and vague memories of drunken mishaps to music of D Ream. He, however, looks fresh, immaculate and if I had leant in closer would probably have smelt of lemons. I am a dishevelled grot bag and look like something you’d find under a teenagers bed. There it is, the difference between comedians and politicians. We are both of us in the gutter, looking at the stars, wanting in our own way to make the world better and be accepted. We just have different ways of hiding that stench of insecurity from the world, one does it with cynicism and jokes and the other , evidently, with early morning showers.