My first ever political speech begins very much like my first ever comedy gig; me dumbstruck, quietly panicking about the potentially humiliating experience my ego and need for attention has got me into now.
Sitting waiting to speak I almost become nostalgic for a rowdy audience. The talk, for Labour youth, is taking place in the back room of a pub away from the conference centre. I knew grubby rooms above pubs, it is the audience that is different. An ex MP, trade union leaders, scarily ambitious young female candidates, people who actually knew what they were talking about. At most comedy gigs, a simple quip that you hate the tories makes you Henry Kissinger, I’d a feeling I’d need more than that to get through me allotted five minutes. Already I had my first glimpse of how completely out of my depth I was when a young party activist grilling me on my borough, congratulated me on our recent bi-election win. How could I admit that not only did I now know we’d won a bi-election, I wasn’t entirely sure what one was?
Thankfully I wasn’t the first speaker, this made me feel more relaxed. As I sat at the top table looking out over the crowd I began to feel more confident. I speak to the public every day I think, I bet I will be a complete natural at this. I imagined myself a young Barbra Streisand, making a speech that electrifies the crowd, the handshakes afterwards, the respectful shoulder pats from the union men. Could a non national lead the Labour party I wonder? If I am elected Prime Minister, would I have to swear allegiance to the Queen? Maybe Kate Middleton will be Queen by then, we could be friends. My political wanderings are interrupted by the first speaker. She is a London counsellor in Boris Jonson constituency and she is brilliant. She has won local elections, she has fought campaigns, she has battled dirty tricks form the Lib Dems. I am shocked; they always seemed so harmless.
Then a trade union leader speaks about how disappointed he was by Ed Balls speech. How New Labour abandoned workers, lost touch with the parties values, how important progressive ideas are. Our debt is nothing compared to the deficit we faced after the second world war when a labour government created the NHS. How the what what am I going to follow this? I don’t know anything about Labour policy, I just really like The Guardian. After him, is another female counsellor, she angrily details the affects Tory policies are having on women’s’ lives. Demands to know what exactly Labour would do differently and reveals the inequality and patronising way women are dismissed within Labour. In politics women are seen as an afterthought, the weakest link that are not trusted as equals. Try bloody comedy I think.
I am next. My blood is ice cold. Relax I think, pretend it’s Question Time and you’re the novelty act. You are tonight’s Lempik Obik. The microphone is handed back to the chair and the world goes into slow motion. “And now” She says “for something a little bit different” No. I think don’t introduce me as the comedy act, I’m not funny, please, I can’t think of anything funny. “We have Grainne Maguire,a stand up comedian”
I stand up and look out into the crowd. I make a vague joke that I’m used to performing in dingy rooms above pubs. Silence. I’m not here to make them laugh I think, so how do I know if theyr’e enjoying themselves. This is new country for me and I do not speak the language. I carry on. My mind goes blank. I’m still hungover. I can’t remember what I’m going to say next. What am I doing? I compare the world of stand up to politics. This goes down slightly better. Then I describe how the conference feels to an outsider. This is my strength- I am definitely an outsider here. I tell them they all look and dress the same, why can’t they look like normal people, why can’t they just talk like normal people do? I say their suits remind me of the dead thoughts they cling to. This gets a round of applause. I feel like a truth teller, a dangerous Lenny Bruce telling them like it is. Everybody not in politics things you’re all weird. I continue, warming to my point. If the majority of the country is working class, why does the party seem obsessesed with a few tiny swing seats and how come after so many years of labour government everything has gone to shit in less than two years? I sit down. “Gone to the shits?” have I just said that? Well, I wasn’t quite the Liam Neeson as Micheal Collins but I wasn’t Gordon Brown either. Afterwards, although I’m not explicitly asked if I would consider public office, the question hovers in the air. Yes, I try to communicate with my smile and handshakes as Ieave, I could be your lovable vagabond MP, a left wing Boris meets a less “handsy” John Prescott and walk home picking out my first shadow cabinet.