Conference in Manchester was really great.
Definitely the best venue of the four I have been to - the others being Blackpool, Brighton and Bournemouth. There are several reasons for that; It is all on the flat, aside from a few steps up to the GMEX building, this makes a considerable difference when you are on your feet all day every day for a week! It is architecturally very pleasing within the secure area, attractive hotels (the Radisson and the Midland), the GMEX building itself, the skyline - I had a view from my hotel bedroom of the town hall clock. There is lots of space within the GMEX so that we could have the exhibition space within the conference venue itself, which is particularly helpful and should make it much easier to persuade potential exhibitors to rent some space.
I wont go into lots of detail about the NEC meetings and what went on, Ann Black gives a pretty good account to anyone who wants to know chapter and verse so it is silly for me to repeat it all here.
So I will give you the gossip and the low-down instead.
I spent quite a bit of time having to organise a prayer room for our Muslim delegates, it being Ramadan and there being a tight timetable of prayers. We had agreed to provide one but the Ts had not been crossed, nor the Is dotted, so it was not ready. The GMEX staff were incredibly helpful in finding somewhere and the delegates who had approached me for help were pleased with the facility. The only slight problem was that the room contained paintings of the Queen and Prince Phillip which had to come down off the wall because you cannot have images of people in a prayer room, but I thought they would have put anybody off their stroke in any case. I thought all that kind of thing, Windsor worship, went out with the ark but obviously not.
I spent quite a lot of time on International issues this conference, I was personally invited to meet the High Commissioner of Pakistan who was a fabulously dressed woman who spoke very well when she addressed the meeting. Someone said later that in Europe she is considered to be the best High Commissioner there is, from any country. I was extremely impressed. She talked about the relief efforts following the earthquake and also about the close relationship between our two countries, it was fascinating. Someone took a photo of us together, but I have not seen it yet.
Along with a few other NEC members I also met outside of the conference with a group of men from Kashmir, from different political backgrounds, who are trying to secure independence for their country. Labour has long since promised to help but they felt that it was all taking too long. I suggested that they consider setting up a Labour Friends of Kashmir group, which I would join, where we could push for this. I know that the Bradford MPs have been particularly supportive of this issue for a long time and there is a large APPG in Westminster too. There were dozens of photos taken on this occasion too but I dont have copies of them either!
I also went to the Labour Friends of Israel reception where my MP, Jane Kennedy is the chair. Tony Blair addressed the meeting and pledged to spend the remainder of his term in office striving towards a two state solution, for Palestine and Israel. It was rather moving and somewhat emotional really, I think it was the same day as the Leader's speech and we knew it would be the last time he would be there, at conference and at the reception. I think lots of people came into to hear him speak one last time who were not themselves interested particularly in Israel. Love him or hate him, there is always something stirring about endings.
I spent quite a lot of time with my Liverpool comrades, in particular one of our young agents, Daniel Hughes who I tried to introduce to lots of campaigners so that they could share ideas. I got Judy Richard's name wrong (from the SouthWest) when I introduced her, I dredged up Susan from somewhere, but I dont know if she noticed, apologies if you did and you are reading this! I was also thrilled to see Sheffield Councillors, Gill and Harry again and we spent some happy hours together in various events. I always love seeing Suzanne and we managed to get a few hours together here and there as I did with my old friend Gina and her team on the CFL stand.
Conference is as much about the Labour family meeting together en masse as it is about policy making, it is the place where you feel warm and inspired and where you just know you are in the right party.
I chaired two sessions which was wonderful.
The first session was Trade and Industry (it was probably called something else but that was the general idea), where I started off a bit nervous but soon settled in to my comfy leather swivel chair and got used to the idea that my face was being displayed behind me on a screen fifteen feet wide! There is something rather fun about sitting up there on the platform and being in charge, choosing speakers, taking votes. I dont think there is much power involved but you do quite fancy yourself while you are sitting there. I tried to call up to speak a balanced section of people, concentrating on making sure I had the gender balance right, that black contributors were chosen, that young people were chosen. Ironically it was the white middle aged men who missed out a bit, for a change.
The second session on the Thursday morning was Crime and Justice and I introduced John Reid, the Home Secretary to conference. I also took 9 votes, including a card vote and was cheered for announcing that a controversial vote on corporate liability was carried.
The best part about chairing though came afterwards when people stopped me in the bar to thank me for calling them to speak or commented on my dry manner or calmness in adversity.
I shall miss all that high profile stuff now that I am not on the NEC any more, but it was great fun while it lasted. (I know you are not supposed to admit to that sort of thing, but who cares.) I was delighted that my colleagues gave me the honour of chairing conference as their parting gift (they also gave me a nice certificate which Tony presented to me, there were photos taken of that too, but as with all the others, I dont have any!)
I closed my final session by thanking conference for their support, and saying that I was going back to Liverpool to help the fight to take the city back for Labour. There were big cheers for that as you can imagine.
And I meant it, look out LibDems, we are coming after you, our people deserve better.