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LABOUR CONFERENCE – Conference sketch by Richard Osley

Ed Miliband in Liverpool with Nash Ali

Published: September 29, 2011

THE cheapskate rail route to conference in Liverpool is to change at Crewe. You get what you pay for, though, and sadly, the 7.10 out of Euston was stuck in the sidings for 40 minutes on Monday morning.

It was a shame that on this trundling train, the former council leader Dame Jane Roberts and Eileen Short, one of pressure group Defend Council Housing’s chief organisers found themselves in different carriages. The delays would have flown by if the pair had got on to a chat about stock transfer, right to buy, that kind of thing...

The disagreements Dame Jane used to have with DCH – remember the Almo? – all seem a long time ago now.

Camden’s Labour group seems unrecognisable. The weary suspicion of days gone by is missing in the faces of young councillors such as Georgia Gould and Thomas Gardiner. There are, of course, some survivors who have seen the transition. Heather Johnson soldiers on. She was here fighting plans for HS2 this week. But lots of them can’t remember the days of Phil Turner and John Thane, the selling off of swimming baths and privatising housing – even if the argument about the sale of libraries could be plucked from a past page of the New Journal.

In the past, most of the under-30s in Camden’s Labour group would have been dismissed as careerists desperate to get to the House of Commons as quickly as possible.

But if it was there sole concern, more of them should have been spending their days on Merseyside this week forging those greasy links with important party bods rather than downing vodka jellies in hotels. There were some party-stained red eyes in the morning line-up.

Maybe, with Labour still dithering at the crossroads of where to go next, Camden’s newest young lions just don’t know who is best to tap up for the future.

By the time they are ripe for Westminster, Ed Miliband (pictured in Liverpool with Nash Ali) might be a distant memory. None of them will say publicly that he comes across like an unelectable geekoid, even if they all think it. He is a constituent of some of them.

Tulip Siddiq – now, there is a woman who surely wants to be an MP – did do a bit of bag carrying, here, there, everywhere for Tessa Jowell. That’s a busy job. Labour HQ send her to lots of interviews. Gives them a breather.

But the rest seemed content to enjoy the sunshine by the docks with a refreshing private realism that Labour, whatever they possess in Camden, have work to do.

None of the local mob were getting overexcited. When Douglas Alexander mildly squeaked: “Abbas, you need to go and you need to go now” – as if that’s going to sort out Syria anytime soon – there were chuckles rather than cheers.

More relaxed than perhaps they should be, the internal squabbles of earlier this year seem forgotten for now.  The group can see the faults and flaws. The question now is whether they can help do anything to overcome them.


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