Stephen Pound says 91-year-old Harry Smith put an irrefutable case for Labour in 2015
I cannot have been the only person who arrived in Manchester for Labour’s conference running on fumes alone as the tank had been all but drained by the referendum campaign in Scotland. I’d been pointed in the direction of Springburn – which I thought was made up of two names for the same thing – and swiftly discovered that in Glasgow the Better Together campaign was the vote that dare not speak its name. The crack team of Steve Rotherham, Vernon Coaker and I kept finding people who whispered their determination to vote for the union but cast their eyes over to the forest of saltires sprouting from an adjacent front garden as they did so. Mind you, when a somewhat street-worn Fiesta screeched to a halt and a very well nourished Yes campaigner charged up to us demanding to know who we were, Rozzo and Big Vern disappeared sharpish (they returned after a decent interval,) and I felt the fear in the air before Harry the Best Organiser in the Land (his official title) rescued me. Normally, conference would supply some sweet relief but the palpable exhaustion hung in the air as the battle weary arrived in Manchester.
Conference normally features the competing demands of the floor, the fringe and occasionally some fun as well. This year we were between the referendum and the general election campaign and I’d not be telling the truth if I didn’t admit that this wasn’t one of those conferences where you could recharge a mobile phone by holding it in the air and letting the electricity crackle.
With respect to my distinguished comrades, I would have to say that the speech of the week was that made by Harry Smith on the last day. The sheer poetry that the 91-year-old Barnsley born hero used to paint a picture of the cruel grinding misery of life before the National Health Service not only moved Andy Burnham to what looked like tears to me but also lit a fire in the hall that will drive us on to May 2015. When Harry told us how in 1945, and still in his RAF uniform, he had voted for Labour and for the NHS he reminded us why we are here and why we must win next year. Kevin Maguire immediately suggested that our next party political broadcast consists just of Harry talking to camera and that gets my vote. There were some great fringes – the Venezuela and Cuba events won’t be forgotten – and I cherished the sharpness of Paul Maskey (West Belfast) when he was on the panel at the CHAMP breakfast when it was pointed out that he, Andrew Mackinlay, Alistair
McDonnell, Billy Hayes and Gary Gibbon had a gender in common. Paul said that this would be the last time and confirmed that from now on CHAMP would stand for Can’t Have All Male Panels.
The Mirror reception on the set of Coronation Street was pretty amazing and I loved the placards that they printed up including “Cameron Resigns after Labour Landslide”, as well as some more dodgy ones.
My two treats at the end of conference were the Manchester City-Sheffield Wednesday match on the Wednesday night, in which I actually managed to unite the rival fans, if only in a shared dislike of southerners, and a fund-raising dinner in Warrington North on behalf of Helen Jones and her great local party. I didn’t know much about Warrington, except that John Bishop talks about Manchester and Liverpool and the something that comes between them being Warrington, but I’ll never forget seeing my first duck house. I hardly believed that such icons of Tory sleaze actually existed but there one was rocking gently in a muddy pond and clearly in need of an upgrade. Local parties raising funds to fight the enemy are great stimulating occasions and it does my heart good to see the comrades enjoying each other’s company and united in their determination. Helen Jones is a real star and has been a good comrade at Westminster, so I didn’t miss the opportunity to run her down in front of her party – as you do.
Back to the Metropolis and straight in to the Iraq vote and hearing a truly brilliant speech from Ed Miliband. No one in our party should ever vote for even the most tightly defined military action without very deep thought indeed but Ed made the case for humanitarian involvement with power and passion. This business is not yet over and there will be dark days ahead but listening to
Ed reassured me that we have at the head of our party someone who has the intelligence and strategic vision to see through the jingoist fog and actually be a leader. Tories take note!
Stephen Pound is Labour MP for Ealing North