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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The Women's March against Trump matters – but only if we keep fighting

We won’t win the battle for progressive ideas if we don’t battle in the first place.

Arron Banks, UKIP-funder, Brexit cheerleader and Gibraltar-based insurance salesman, took time out from Trump's inauguration to tweet me about my role in tomorrow's Women’s March Conservative values are in the ascendancy worldwide. Thankfully your values are finished. . . good”.

Just what about the idea of women and men marching for human rights causes such ill will? The sense it is somehow cheeky to say we will champion equality whoever is in office in America or around the world. After all, if progressives like me have lost the battle of ideas, what difference does it make whether we are marching, holding meetings or just moaning on the internet?

The only anti-democratic perspective is to argue that when someone has lost the argument they have to stop making one. When political parties lose elections they reflect, they listen, they learn but if they stand for something, they don’t disband. The same is true, now, for the broader context. We should not dismiss the necessity to learn, to listen, to reflect on the rise of Trump – or indeed reflect on the rise of the right in the UK  but reject the idea that we have to take a vow of silence if we want to win power again.

To march is not to ignore the challenges progressives face. It is to start to ask what are we prepared to do about it.

Historically, conservatives have had no such qualms about regrouping and remaining steadfast in the confidence they have something worth saying. In contrast, the left has always been good at absolving itself of the need to renew.

We spend our time seeking the perfect candidates, the perfect policy, the perfect campaign, as a precondition for action. It justifies doing nothing except sitting on the sidelines bemoaning the state of society.

We also seem to think that changing the world should be easier than reality suggests. The backlash we are now seeing against progressive policies was inevitable once we appeared to take these gains for granted and became arrogant and exclusive about the inevitability of our worldview. Our values demand the rebalancing of power, whether economic, social or cultural, and that means challenging those who currently have it. We may believe that a more equal world is one in which more will thrive, but that doesn’t mean those with entrenched privilege will give up their favoured status without a fight or that the public should express perpetual gratitude for our efforts via the ballot box either.  

Amongst the conferences, tweets and general rumblings there seem three schools of thought about what to do next. The first is Marxist  as in Groucho revisionism: to rise again we must water down our principles to accommodate where we believe the centre ground of politics to now be. Tone down our ideals in the hope that by such acquiescence we can eventually win back public support for our brand – if not our purpose. The very essence of a hollow victory.

The second is to stick to our guns and stick our heads in the sand, believing that eventually, when World War Three breaks out, the public will come grovelling back to us. To luxuriate in an unwillingness to see we are losing not just elected offices but the fight for our shared future.

But what if there really was a third way? It's not going to be easy, and it requires more than a hashtag or funny t-shirt. It’s about picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves down and starting to renew our call to arms in a way that makes sense for the modern world.

For the avoidance of doubt, if we march tomorrow and then go home satisfied we have made our point then we may as well not have marched at all. But if we march and continue to organise out of the networks we make, well, then that’s worth a Saturday in the cold. After all, we won’t win the battle of ideas, if we don’t battle.

We do have to change the way we work. We do have to have the courage not to live in our echo chambers alone. To go with respect and humility to debate and discuss the future of our communities and of our country.

And we have to come together to show there is a willingness not to ask a few brave souls to do that on their own. Not just at election times, but every day and in every corner of Britain, no matter how difficult it may feel.

Saturday is one part of that process of finding others willing not just to walk a mile with a placard, but to put in the hard yards to win the argument again for progressive values and vision. Maybe no one will show up. Maybe not many will keep going. But whilst there are folk with faith in each other, and in that alternative future, they’ll find a friend in me ready to work with them and will them on  and then Mr Banks really should be worried.