Late nights, long walks and much dashing about

A day spent tackling Burma, Gaza, four Oxjam concerts, four recruitments and a potential office move

As Head of Media for Oxfam, the party conference season is an important place to go and spend time with Britain’s most senior and influential journalists, to discuss issues of the day. There is a rich cast of characters who either are there hunting in the margins for something new, or for new ways to present old problems (Darfur being a classic head-scratcher for many), while others use it as an annual sojourn to keep up appearances.

Most of the newspaper editors come down and join their foot soldiers in the bunker of the carpark under the conference centre. Here, everyone from Jon Snow to Nick Robinson are crammed into a grey jungle of wires and tape, planning their verdicts on Brown’s speech.

One floor up, it was good to see old friends like Ros Wynne-Jones from The Mirror and Dave Wooding from The Sun who have both helped get Oxfam’s issues out in their respective but very different papers. At the same time, you also bump into the Head of Comms for the Premier League, Marketing Directors of Newspapers or Comment Editors who are all interested to hear how they can support Oxfam’s work.

We have been building up for the conference with our Go Gordon campaign which has been aiming to challenge him on having a fairer foreign policy, taking more drastic action on climate change and ensuring that they keep their aid commitments from two years ago.

From a campaigns and political perspective this has been very successful with some 11,000 people signing up in support of the campaign http://www.oxfam.org.uk/get_involved/campaign/actions/

At the conference we have had a massive Gordon Brown head handing out our ethical fairtrade bags to delegates. That has been very well received. Even Sarah Brown, the Prime Minister’s wife, commented on how much she liked them.

In terms of publicity for our issues, it is hard to cut through, with space dominated by the political elite rather than commentators. Everyone takes your quotes and wants to know your opinions on subjects, but sadly, the space they have in the papers is often only for comments from the politicians themselves.

We trailed a poll in the papers in advance of the conference on the Saturday, which showed that only the British public have yet to decide whether Brown’s foreign policy is fair and just. This was picked up in The Independent and The Scotsman http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/politics/article2987779.ece

The speeches on Darfur suggest this may be about to change, as this crisis was a dominant theme in the conference hall and fringe events. This was very positive to see. However, this is a conflict that still rages and 4 million people need the statements made in Dorset to turn into protection and safety. News from New York at the UN suggests that, sadly, the deployment of troops still looks like being a long way away.

At the event itself, we did manage to get a couple of good bits out on ITV regional news, and should make it into a package for the BBC politics show this weekend. But the real value from these events comes in the follow up conversations back in Westminster or with national newspaper editors, one of whom has agreed to travel with us to Darfur to give further publicity to the crisis, as we reach critical decision points in the coming weeks.

Despite the late nights, long walks and dashing around we have had a good conference with ministers being very receptive to our ideas, relationships with new outlets being developed and lots of food for thought for next year.

I am back in the office tomorrow to deal with Burma, Gaza, 4 Oxjam concerts, 4 recruitments and a potential office move. In comparison to the Labour Party Conference, it should be a nice relaxing day.

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How Donald Trump is slouching towards the Republican nomination

There was supposed to be a ceiling above which Trump’s popular support could not climb.

In America, you can judge a crowd by its merchandise. Outside the Connecticut Convention Centre in Hartford, frail old men and brawny moms are selling “your Trump 45 football jerseys”, “your hats”, “your campaign buttons”. But the hottest item is a T-shirt bearing the slogan “Hillary sucks . . . but not like Monica!” and, on the back: “Trump that bitch!” Inside, beyond the checkpoint manned by the Transportation Security Administration and the secret service (“Good!” the man next to me says, when he sees the agents), is a family whose three kids, two of them girls, are wearing the Monica shirt.

Other people are content with the shirts they arrived in (“Waterboarding – baptising terrorists with freedom” and “If you don’t BLEED red, white and blue, take your bitch ass home!”). There are 80 chairs penned off for the elderly but everyone else is standing: guys in motorcycle and military gear, their arms folded; aspiring deal-makers, suited, on cellphones; giggling high-school fatsos, dressed fresh from the couch, grabbing M&M’s and Doritos from the movie-theatre-style concession stands. So many baseball hats; deep, bellicose chants of “Build the wall!” and “USA!”. (And, to the same rhythm, “Don-ald J!”)

A grizzled man in camouflage pants and combat boots, whose T-shirt – “Connecticut Militia III%” – confirms him as a member of the “patriot” movement, is talking to a zealous young girl in a short skirt, who came in dancing to “Uptown Girl”.

“Yeah, we were there for Operation American Spring,” he says. “Louis Farrakhan’s rally of hate . . .”

“And you’re a veteran?” she asks. “Thank you so much!”

Three hours will pass. A retired US marine will take the rostrum to growl, “God bless America – hoo-rah!”; “Uptown Girl” will play many more times (much like his speeches, Donald J’s playlist consists of a few items, repeated endlessly), before Trump finally looms in and asks the crowd: “Is this the greatest place on Earth?”

There was supposed to be a ceiling above which Trump’s popular support could not climb. Only a minority within a minority of Americans, it was assumed, could possibly be stupid enough to think a Trump presidency was a good idea. He won New Hampshire and South Carolina with over 30 per cent of the Republican vote, then took almost 46 per cent in Nevada. When he cleaned up on Super Tuesday in March, he was just shy of 50 per cent in Massachusetts; a week later, he took 47 per cent of the votes in Mississippi.

His rivals, who are useless individually, were meant to co-operate with each other and the national party to deny him the nomination. But Trump won four out of the five key states being contested on “Super-Duper Tuesday” on 15 March. Then, as talk turned to persuading and co-opting his delegates behind the scenes, Trump won New York with 60 per cent.

Now, the campaign is trying to present Trump as more “presidential”. According to his new manager, Paul Manafort, this requires him to appear in “more formal settings” – without, of course, diluting “the unique magic of Trump”. But whether or not he can resist denouncing the GOP and the “corrupt” primary system, and alluding to violence if he is baulked at at the convention, the new Trump will be much the same as the old.

Back in Hartford: “The Republicans wanna play cute with us, right? If I don’t make it, you’re gonna have millions of people that don’t vote for a Republican. They’re not gonna vote at all,” says Trump. “Hopefully that’s all, OK? Hopefully that’s all, but they’re very, very angry.”

This anger, which can supposedly be turned on anyone who gets in the way, has mainly been vented, so far, on the protesters who disrupt Trump’s rallies. “We’re not gonna be the dummies that lose all of our jobs now. We’re gonna be the smart ones. Oh, do you have one over there? There’s one of the dummies . . .”

There is a frenzied fluttering of Trump placards, off to his right. “Get ’em out! . . . Don’t hurt ’em – see how nice I am? . . . They really impede freedom of speech and it’s a disgrace. But the good news is, folks, it won’t be long. We’re just not taking it and it won’t be long.”

It is their removal by police, at Trump’s ostentatious behest, that causes the disruption, rather than the scarcely audible protesters. He seems to realise this, suddenly: “We should just let ’em . . . I’ll talk right over them, there’s no problem!” But it’s impossible to leave the protesters where they are, because it would not be safe. His crowd is too vicious.

Exit Trump, after exactly half an hour, inclusive of the many interruptions. His people seem uplifted but, out on the street, they are ambushed by a large counter-demonstration, with a booming drum and warlike banners and standards (“Black Lives Matter”; an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, holding aloft Trump’s severed head). Here is the rest of the world, the real American world: young people, beautiful people, more female than male, every shade of skin colour. “F*** Donald Trump!” they chant.

After a horrified split-second, the Trump crowd, massively more numerous, rallies with “USA!” and – perplexingly, since one of the main themes of the speech it has just heard was the lack of jobs in Connecticut – “Get a job!” The two sides then mingle, unobstructed by police. Slanging matches break out that seem in every instance to humiliate the Trump supporter. “Go to college!” one demands. “Man, I am in college, I’m doin’ lovely!”

There is no violence, only this: some black boys are dancing, with liquid moves, to the sound of the drum. Four young Trump guys counter by stripping to their waists and jouncing around madly, their skin greenish-yellow under the street lights, screaming about the building of the wall. There was no alcohol inside; they’re drunk on whatever it is – the elixir of fascism, the unique magic of Trump. It’s a hyper but not at all happy drunk.

As with every other moment of the Trump campaign so far, it would have been merely some grade of the cringeworthy – the embarrassing, the revolting, the pitiful – were Trump not slouching closer and closer, with each of these moments, to his nomination. 

This article first appeared in the 28 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The new fascism