Here’s a blog I wrote for The Independent during this year’s Labour Party Conference…
It is the last full day of the Labour conference and despite a full timetable of events, there is an end of term feel to proceedings. The high light of today is Ed Miliband’s Q&A. Ed’s ability to think on his feet, answer questions thoughtfully, often going back to the questioner for their thoughts and remember everybody’s name is incredibly impressive. He banters with the crowd and flirts with some of the older female delegates. As an MC at any late night gig, he would hold his own.
Throughout the conference I have been really missing comedy. I think it was all the earnestness, formality and sincerity of the political debates that made me nostalgic for the laid back, gruff cynicism and silliness of the comedy world. Comedians look at the world and either say: “this is awful we should be angry” or “this is nonsense, we should be silly”. Politicians say: “this is not working what should we do instead?”
When it’s over, Ed and the other senior members of the shadow cabinet go for a meet and greet around the conference main hall, stopping for photo opportunities at the various special interest groups and corporate sponsors that have set up stalls there for the week. An awkward group of fresh faced delegates and determined middle aged women follow them around, swooping in for a quick photo op when possible.
Then everybody pops back to their hotels rooms, the gentlemen stick on their favourite red tie, the ladies into their best fitted red dress and it’s back for the last hurray: the annual Labour Youth Reception. It’s the final night of the conference and the only place left giving out free wine. For most young delegates, this is not only their final chance to see their political heroes, it is all their last chance to pull.
I chat to a lobbyist who has been to the Lib Dem conference in Brighton. It was he said, one of the most depressing weekends of his life. He is looking forward to the Conservative conference as the food will be better and parties more fun. Vote Labour but shag Tory, he explains, an expression I have heard three times at this conference already.
The room is the size of a medium-sized hotel reception room, making the event feel like a family wedding. Ed Balls takes to the stage, to the kind of enthusiastic applause only a room full of slightly drunk young men can create. He recounts a prank call made to him during a cabinet reshuffle, where – for a few moments – Tony Blair let him believe he was heading to the Northern Ireland office before giving him a post in the Treasury. Every shadow minister will have one off-the-cuff joke that they will tirelessly recycle at every event. From most people’s indulgent hoots, this seems to be his.
Then Harriet Harman takes to the stage. I adore Harriet, she reminds me of the sort of secondary school teacher that you would worry about letting down. She gives a rallying call to the young people in the room, praising Ed’s speech and warning them not to fall for the St. Vince Cable nonsense; The Lib Dems are getting no love from her.
Then bizarrely it’s my turn. Two months ago in the throes of the Edinburgh festival I got an email asking if I wanted to do a short set at the Labour Conference. I thought it would be at some daytime event and that I would maybe get a few free sandwiches out of. I didn’t think I’d have to follow the Deputy Leader.
Yet here I am. After half an hour of heartfelt rabble rousing speeches, I’m about to go onstage to a room which may possibly include the future cabinet and do a tight ten. It was the most terrifying gig I have ever done in my life. I cannot breathe, white with bone-chilling fear. I get to the stage and after about two minutes of startled confusion by the audience, where they must have worried that I was some truly bizarre protester, they get on board and it is one of the most wonderful gigs of my life. Maybe I’m still on a high from Ed’s speech, maybe it was the hopeful earnest faces looking up at me but doing that gig was one of the proudest moments of my life. I look at their little hopeful, earnest faces and I am in love.
I am followed by man of the hour Mr. Ed Miliband. It is like a rock star has entered the room. There are shouts of “Ed! Ed! Ed!” and I overhear relieved party members reveal how happy they are to see the Ed they campaigned for in the leadership elections, after a few years worryingly MIA, coming back.
Afterwards I meet a young Labour party member. Her name is Kaya Makarau Schwartz and she is an incredibly clever, funny woman in her twenties who has campaigned in her Islington constituency for years. She has come close to being selected for counsel several time but always just missed out. She still volunteers in local elections, trudges along to conference every year, has plans to set up her own community group to help young women, all the while having a full time job.
Anybody who thinks that you can sail up the political ladder without putting years of hard work in must be the same people who think Michael McIntyre was an overnight success. When she makes it into the House of Commons, which if there is any justice she will, will it be my job as a comic to dismiss her off hand? To label her a shameless, self serving careerist? It wouldn’t be biting satire, it would just be bizarre.
Afterwards, everyone skips to the final night student disco. There, conference friendships will be cemented, allegiances made, delegate romances will reach fruition. I also know that hangover or not, half the crowd there will be up the next morning to see Ed give a special Q&A for Labour Youth and then sing along to the Red Flag after Harriet’s Final speech. As a comic maybe I should have some witty zinger to dismiss them all as out of touch weirdos but I just don’t have the heart to.
It’s at that moment, I realise after five days with the Labour party family, this comedian has probably drunk the Kool-Aid.Ed Miliband, Harriet Harman, Labour conference, Stand-up, The Independent