Labour’s annual conference ended with a lengthy speech from a Labour leader in total control of his party. But some divisions remain. Delegates from Unite, who applauded every sentence of Jeremy Corbyn’s speech, were thrown into a state of confusion when he departed from his prepared text to praise his deputy Tom Watson. The sizeable Unite delegation had received instructions from on high to sit on their hands throughout Watson’s 20 minute address the previous day, but found themselves inadvertently applauding his name when he was thanked unexpectedly by the Great Leader. On realising their mistake, most stopped clapping and sat with arms folded until Corbyn moved on to the next section of his speech. Proof, if were needed, that there are cracks in the edifice of unity that was constructed for the duration of conference.
A handful of confused Labour figures gathered in Brighton received a bizarre text message from former shadow Chancellor Ed Balls late one evening inviting them to ‘grab your swimsuit’ and join him for an impromptu drink in his newly-purchased hot tub, from where he was apparently hosting a boozy party with some of the stars of Strictly Come Dancing – and Stormzy. Some time later, the same group received a second message from the nation’s favourite Fox-trotter explaining that Michael MacIntyre had grabbed his phone during an appearance on the comedian’s BBC show and composed the text as Balls watched on helplessly. We wonder if Yvette was invited?
Room with No View:
The Grand hotel is having a facelift, so delegates who stayed at the famous Brighton landmark during conference were deprived of a sea view. A white cloak of tarpaulin covered the front of the hotel, which is a short walk from the conference centre next door. One guest remarked (rather pretentiously) it was reminiscent of a work by Bulgarian artist Christo, whose trademark trick involves encasing public buildings – including the German Reichstag – in cocoons of fabric. It could just as easily be a metaphor for the work Jeremy Corbyn is carrying out on a new look Labour party that is currently under construction.
A room of one’s own:
An unfortunate turn of events unfolded early on Monday morning, as the scheduled 7.30am meeting of Labour’s NEC was due to begin at the Hilton hotel. It had been cancelled late on Sunday evening, but nobody in the leader’s office managed to communicate that to Jeremy Corbyn, who arrived on time at the crack of dawn only to find himself standing alone in an an empty room.
A Liverpool-supporting hack decided to take a break from a packed schedule of fringe events and speeches to watch TV coverage of Liverpool’s Champions League game against Spartak Moscow at a quiet Brighton pub on Tuesday night. His reverie was interrupted, however, by a vocal fellow fan who sat with his face pressed to the tele, loudly disputing every refereeing decision that went against the Reds. On closer inspection, the Scouse screamer turned out to be Merseyside Metro mayor (and Liverpool season ticket holder) Steve Rotherham. If only his team’s performance had matched the intensity of their recently-elected superfan: the game ended in a one-all draw.
Kudos to the FT’s senior lobby team, George Parker and Jim Pickard, and the Guardian’s Whitehall edithor Rajeev Syal, who took the plunge and waded into the English Channel during a break from proceedings in Brighton – an achievement that was captured on camera. But they were outdone by the Observer’s political editor Toby Helm, who took to the water during his Brighton stay for two lengthy swims. The sea in September is not unlike the atmosphere encountered by moderate Labour MPs who braved Brighton – uninviting at first, but after a while you get used to it.
Out in the cold:
Councillors were incensed to find themselves banned from the conference floor and banished to the balcony in Brighton (along with MPs) despite paying £160 for passes that should have given them the right to roam wherever they pleased. Those rights were rescinded to make space for the thousands of first-time delegates who descended on Brighton. One local government representative complained loudly that councillors – who each pay hundreds of pounds a year to Labour from their allowances – are by far the biggest donors to party coffers. There is clearly no cash for access in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party.
Jeremy Corbyn failed to attend the Labour Friends of Israel reception at conference and sent an apologetic note instead. Aides explained he was busy working on his blockbuster conference speech – an alibi that was blown when pictures emerged on Twitter of the Labour leader enjoying himself at the Mirror party round the corner at the very moment the note was read out. That made for an awkward atmosphere as attendees heckled the leader’s team while pointing to pictures from the Mirror bash on their phones.
One man who couldn’t be spotted at the Mirror party was Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey. His union used to help foot the bill for the annual bash – regarded as the best of the week – but the GMB did the honours this year. McCluskey also stayed away from a Mirror fringe event on austerity Britain, sending his deputy Steve Turner instead. Has Red Len fallen out with the left’s only ‘Red Top’?