The taxi driver's analysis

A glimpse of the pied piper, a Chinese driver who thinks he knows the PM's secret, and much more...

As a wet-behind-the-ears journalist, two months into my first job and on my first trip to a party conference, the prospect of filing for four publications – having never been to Bournemouth before – without a guide or map is a tad daunting.

I realised the level of my naivety at half-past five on Friday afternoon. It was only then my trip was finalised and I had a quick search on the net only to find every hotel bed on the South Coast was already booked up.

When I phoned guest houses and B&Bs I felt like Christian Bale in American Psycho trying to order a table at the most coveted restaurant in Manhattan. You could hear each receptionist holding back the guffaws as I asked if they had a room to spare for the following week.

At £550 for a press ticket, it was a tall order convincing my editor it was essential I attend the main conference, so I satisfied myself with attending the smaller fringe events in hotel function rooms and tearooms.

Researching what events were on was an arduous task. Unlike the Conservatives’ website – which had a 107-page pdf fringe listings guide a full week before the conference – Labour refused to put a listings guide on their site. Paid-up delegates would only receive a guide when they turned up.

Quite how you’re supposed to plan your conference before you turn up, not even knowing what days specific events are on, I don’t know. Undoubtedly, many event sponsors, who have forked out plenty of money to put on events, but received no publicity from the organisers, would be pretty aggrieved. The £550 for a ticket must go towards a lot of bubbly.

My first event is the first Tory fringe event at a Labour party conference. Shadow Works and Pensions Secretary Chris Grayling whipped up a room of disgruntled pensioners to a fury and then led them – like an inversed Pied Piper of Hamlyn – to march through the town and to the main conference building. They then stripped off on Bournemouth beach in protest over collapsed pension funds, while bemused policemen and seagulls looked on.

I later got a cab to my hotel in (not-so-nearby) Poole and the Chinese driver gave me his views of the new PM, despite admitting knowing little about Brown. “The current prime minister,” he insisted, “held a gun to the former one after they had an argument and told him to get out. That’s what happens in China all the time.”

I suggested this may not have been the case, but was assured it “probably had been like that”. Perhaps Martin Bright has missed a scoop.

Owen Walker is a journalist for a number of titles within Financial Times Business, primarily focussing on pensions. He recently graduated from Cardiff University’s newspaper journalism post-graduate course and is cursed by a passion for Crystal Palace FC.
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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.