What do the Labour Party conference, Glastonbury and sex have in common?

They’re good to watch on TV but it’s better to be there.

Conference has a special atmosphere, even in the difficult times. The superficial thrill of seeing national politicians and TV pundits wandering around the streets adds to it. The pleasure of feeling part of something relevant and important is deeply satisfying. As is being able to drink lots of free booze.

One of my guilty pleasures is observing the different types of people you get at Conference. Here are just a few…

Call of the mild

Who’s that pretending to take a call while wandering into shot? The political equivalent of the blokes on Booze Britain who can’t walk past a camera without being lairy, these individuals try to be more subtle. They’ll drift into view with their phone firmly stuck to their ear but their eyes give it away. They’re looking right at the camera. See if you can spot a mate doing it. Every year I wish someone would shout “oi oiii” at Andrew Neill. Every year I’m disappointed. Please, if you’re going, do it for all of us.

Out of office

Former leaders and ministers can breeze about at a slower and more relaxed pace than they used to. They look happier and less tired. Well, most of them do. Others feel awkward about being there and wear the embarrassed expression of someone who’s discovered their flies have been down all afternoon.

A load of stunts

In any other week of the year trying to grab a politician’s attention with an inflatable sperm would seem like madness. Not here. It appears to be the rule that each member of staff on an exhibition stand has to have ridiculous gimmick. What’s even more amazing is that politicians will flock to these bizarre photo opportunities like looters to JD Sports. “You’re campaigning against Sunday trading so you want me to put a rat on my head? Sure.”

Drink Tank

“Hi, I’m Lawrence Howitt from BS Public Affairs, we’re hosting a thought event about citizen engagement via online packages that click through to a consultation matrix, would you like to come along?”

“Will there be free booze?”

“Yes”

“I’m there”.

Suffer these tieless types for they will feed and refresh you.

Deja Who?

“Yes, we’ve met before” they say after you introduce yourself. If you have met them before you’re always impressed that a shadow cabinet minister has remembered you. If you haven’t met them before, you’re left questioning your sanity. For years I thought there must have been something particularly memorable about me as the great and the good always seemed to know who I was. It was upon meeting George Osborne that my world changed. “Yes, we’ve met before” he said. It was impossible so the words rang around my head. “Why would he say that if we hadn’t?” I thought. Then it hit me. They all do it. “Son of a…”

Glare in the community

Characterised by their rigid posture and thousand-yard stare, this particular breed of political animal is deeply insecure. They want you to think “hey look at that guy swanning around, I bet he’s dead powerful and charismatic”. What you’ll really think is “what a tool”. It’s not that these individuals are bad, it’s just status is the only thing that validates their existence. Which makes for dreadful conversation. Listen out for their trademark inflection when they utter dull phrases such as “we need to work on messaging”.

The protest with the mostest

“You what mate? Chewing gum is made out of human waste and old trainers? No I won’t ‘like’ your Facebook group”. Avoid placard wavers at all costs. No good ever comes from talking to them. Have you ever heard someone say “you know what, I’m really glad I spoke to that woman over there covered in lamb’s blood and sawdust, she really opened my eyes about education policy”?

Of course there are plenty of normal people who go to conference, but they’re no fun to spot.
 

Ed Miliband and Ed Balls at the party conference. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Matt Forde is a stand-up comedian and talkSPORT presenter. He also writes for 8 Out Of 10 Cats, Stand Up For The Week and Russell Howard’s Good News. He recently performed his critically-acclaimed show ‘Eyes to the right, nose to the left’ at the Edinburgh Festival. He used to work for the Labour Party.

Nicola Sturgeon. Photo: Getty
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For the first time in decades, there is genuine dissent in Scottish Nationalist ranks

The First Minister is facing pressure to talk less about independence - and bring on new talent in her party.

She so recently seemed all-powerful, licensed to reign for as long as she chose, with the authority to pursue the return of our national sovereignty. We would then have the ability to strike our own deals on our own terms, a smaller, smarter, leaner nation freed from the stifling constraints of partnership with a much larger neighbour. There was, she repeatedly told us, nothing to be afraid of.

Now, suddenly, she is the victim of her own miscalculation: having misread the public mood, having raced too far ahead of moderate opinion, she finds herself at bay. The voters have delivered a public humiliation, while an opposition party until recently lampooned as unelectable is on the march. There is, suddenly, talk of her departure sooner rather than later.

Yes, this is a tough time to be Nicola Sturgeon…

Let’s not overstate it. The position of Scotland’s First Minister is considerably more secure than that of the UK’s Prime Minister. Theresa May wants out as soon as is feasible; Sturgeon, one suspects, will have to be dragged from Bute House. Sturgeon retains enough respect among the public and support among her colleagues to plough on for now. Nevertheless, things are not what they were before the general election and are unlikely ever to return to that happy state.

It’s all because of Scexit, of course. Sturgeon’s unseemly sprint for the indy finishing line left enough Scottish voters feeling… what? Mistreated, taken for granted, rushed, patronised, bullied… so much so that they effectively used June 8 to deliver a second No vote. With the idea of another referendum hanging around like a bad headache, the electorate decided to stage an intervention. In just two years, Sturgeon lost 40 per cent of her Westminster seats and displaced half a million votes. One could almost argue that, by comparison, Theresa May did relatively well.

For the first time in decades, there is genuine dissent in Nationalist ranks. Tommy Sheppard, a former Labour Party official who is now an influential left-wing SNP MP, published an article immediately after the general election calling on the First Minister to ‘park’ a second referendum until the Brexit negotiations are complete. There are others who believe the party should rediscover its talent for the long game: accept the public mood is unlikely to change much before the 2021 devolved elections, at which point, even if the Nats remain the single largest party, Holyrood might find itself with a unionist majority; concentrate on improving the public services, show what might be done with all the powers of an independent nation, and wait patiently until the numbers change.

There are others – not many, but some – who would go further. They believe that Sturgeon should take responsibility for the election result, and should be looking to hand over to a new generation before 2021. The old guard has had its shot and its time: a party with veterans such as Sturgeon, John Swinney and Mike Russell in the key jobs looks too much like it did 20 years ago. Even the new Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, has been on the scene for donkey’s. There are more who believe that the iron grip the First Minister and her husband, SNP chief executive Peter Murrell, have on the party is unhealthy – that Murrell should carry the can for the loss of 21 MPs, and that he certainly would have done so if he weren’t married to the boss.

The most likely outcome, given what we know about the First Minister’s nature, is that she will choose something like the Sheppard route: talk less about independence for the next 18 months, see what the Brexit deal looks like, keep an eye on the polls and if they seem favourable go for a referendum in autumn 2019. The question is, can a wearied and increasingly cynical public be won round by then? Will people be willing to pile risk upon risk?

As the hot takes about Jeremy Corbyn’s surprise election performance continue to flood in, there has been a lot of attention given to the role played by young Britons. The issues of intergenerational unfairness, prolonged austerity and hard Brexit, coupled with Corbyn’s optimistic campaigning style, saw a sharp rise in turnout among that demographic. Here, Scotland has been ahead of the curve. In the 2014 referendum, the Yes campaign and its can-do spirit of positivity inspired huge enthusiasm among younger Scots. Indeed, only a large and slightly panicked defensive response from over-65s saved the union.

That brush with calamity seems to have been close enough for many people: many of the seats taken from the Nats by the Scottish Tories at the general election were rural, well-to-do and relatively elderly. The modern electorate is a fickle thing, but it remains rational. The Corbynites, amid their plans for total world domination and their ongoing festival of revenge, might bear that in mind.

Chris Deerin is the New Statesman's contributing editor (Scotland). 

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