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Paris Vienna Madrid New York Hamburg Berlin Munich www.wempe.com Andrew Gimson
Drink, gossip, late nights, hotel rooms in which it is impossible to open the window or get back to sleep once woken: the party conference season is in full swing, and I take the unconventional view that it is rather enjoyable. But not for Ed Miliband. On Tuesday the Labour leader missed what may turn out to have been his last chance to put his stamp on the impending crisis. He should have torn up his dreary speech and spoken directly to the nation about the approaching economic hurricane. Only Ed Balls showed a proper awareness of the opportunity this crisis could present for Labour.
Iused to love going to Blackpool — a deeply unfashionable view — but I feel fortunate to have the chance of a few days in Liverpool. The Walker Art Gallery is a marvel. But this year’s conference feels different, and not just because Labour is intent on marching back into the pre-Blairite wilderness. My wife, Sally, has just won a by-election in Camden: she is now a Labour councillor, with Ed Miliband as one of her constituents. I have taken my first, faltering steps as an elected politician’s spouse: a role seldom written about. It is no longer possible to regard it as akin to the part played by the vicar’s wife, who sits with stately pride in the front pew and indicates by her demeanour that her husband’s sermon is nothing like as tedious as it sounds. When Kevin Maguire of the Daily Mirror met me with Councillor Gimson, he said to her with a merry laugh: ‘So it’s “bring your husband to work week”, is it?’ To me he added: ‘It’s great fun thinking of you as the insignificant other.’ Friends have inquired how I am adapting. I reply that I shall never be able to show the grace under pressure displayed by the late Sir Denis Thatcher. A friend said I should think more in terms of Todd Palin.
Before leaving London, we held a party to thank all the people who had worked on the campaign. I did not work on it myself: it was evident to me that, as the Daily Telegraph’s parliamentary sketchwriter, I could not go around urging people to vote Labour. One of the few things I did was to accompany Sally, in a strictly non-political capacity, to a street party where the Green candidate compared me to Genghis Khan. I was so surprised, and anxious not to indulge in fruitless political debate, that I said nothing. But on thinking it over afterwards I felt pleased, for I fear I am regarded by stern, unbending Tories as dripping wet.
Anyhow, a victory party seems to be a straightforward occasion for a spouse: all one has to do is to pour out the drinks and say thank you for all your help. Alastair Campbell, who lives about 200 yards away, was the first guest to arrive. He asked for tap water, the quality of which he said had been improved by the last Labour government. He also claimed that his tweets in support of the candidate had exercised a decisive influence on the result.
There are journalists who attend party conferences for many years without ever meeting a delegate. They meet senior politicians and their staff, but spend much of their time talking to other journalists. Some of these conversations take place at the latenight drinks parties thrown by various publications. At the Guardian party, which began at 10.30 p.m. on Monday, I saw the husband of a former foreign secretary and a Labour woman MP both turned away despite their pleas that members of the paper’s staff had invited them. In previous years, I have sometimes found it virtually impossible to get into this party. Once inside, I heard of a ludicrous proposal to reduce the frequency of William Keegan’s column in the Observer. This is surely not something that any sane editor would do during an economic crisis.
There is a statue in the gardens opposite my hotel of Sir Arthur Bower Forwood, a member of Liverpool City Council from 1871 until his death in 1898. The inscription on the plinth reads:
earnest & indomitable endowed with great talents freely given to the public service a leader of men As one walks through Liverpool — or Birmingham, where the Lib Dems met last week, or Manchester, where the Tories will be next week — one sees inspiring evidence of the tremendous local patriotism which flourished in this country in the second half of the 19th century. We have not yet matched it.
London: 46 George Street, W1U 7DX. 020 7486 2363
Andrew Gimson is the author of Boris: The Rise of Boris Johnson.
the spectator | 1 October 2011 | www.spectator.co.uk