Having just finished writing blogs for the Huffington Post, Labour Rose and the Oxford Labour Party websites that deal with the important issues of the Labour Party conference in Manchester, this entry is significantly less serious and more about the Joy of Politics.
This is something that I think we forget at our peril.
One of the things that stopped me becoming active in the Labour Party sooner was that I thought it would be a dull experience, dominated by slightly musty men sitting in damp committee rooms, discussing composite motions and the intricacies of policy. (In fairness, there is some truth in those fears, but now I tend to enjoy the old-worldly charm of such visions when they happen.)
More often than not, however, I have found the Labour Party to be a warm and welcoming place, and have had more fun than I ever had shouting at the TV in the days before I discovered the Joy of Politics.
And this conference was no exception.
As my local rag, the Oxford Mail pointed out this week in their column ‘Corridors of Power’ – me? power? have they gone mad? – I was extremely excited to be there.
And that excitement started early.
I drove my fellow delegate Michele out of her wits on the train to Manchester. When she started ignoring my demands to be entertained, I used the wonder of technology, tweeting her every 30 seconds or so with the pressing question, ‘Are we nearly there yet?’
Once we got there, I was even more excited to find that our delegate seats were two rows from the front. This afforded the excitement of contact not just with key figures from the Shadow Cabinet, and of witnessing Ed Miliband change the political landscape with his barnstorming speech, but also with people like Alaistair Campbell and Ed Miliband’s school teacher.
It also meant that Michele and I were afforded plenty of opportunities to reprise our important roles of cheer leaders for the party. Our days as French and Saunders-style extras, hovering ineptly in the background, were eclipsed with starring roles on the BBC Parliament channel.
Seeing yourself on a giant TV also had another important function: I realised that I had reached the age at which powder to one’s nose is now a necessity. No more ‘Shiny Happy People’ for me, oh no!
The Labour movement is about all its members as Ed’s theme of One Nation made crystal clear.
But for fangirls like me, meeting one’s political heroes is a real bonus of the serious business of discussing policy and shaping the future direction of the party that happens at conference.
And I did extremely well on that front this year.
I met and kissed John Prescott.
I hugged Neil Kinnock.
I finally met properly the quite wonderful Frances O’Grady, the new General Secretary of the TUC who told me that she should have worn her ‘Berserkers with Bosoms Hate Con-Dems Cuts’ t-shirt.
I also shared a platform with Tom Watson on ‘Ethics and Public Life’ for the wonderful Labour Left fringe. (Though here I am showing what a generous soul I am by providing a picture of Michele with The Great Man.)
And the Labour Left people revealed yet again the warmth of so many of the people I’ve met since becoming more than just a Labour voter. We shared drinks, we laughed at our inability to understand what a tweet-up is (I still don’t know to be honest), and we generally had fun in each other’s company.
We have been encouraged over the last 30 years to think that politics is not for us, only for the weird, spoddy few. We have been encouraged to detach from the political process and as a result have allowed others to take charge of our lives. We have felt isolated and powerless.
I have found in party politics a home that has brought me new, lovely friends (Kate, Mags, Eoin, Val, Deb, Mike, Harry, Justin, Helen, Anne-Marie, Ed, Michelle to name but a few) as well as a sense that things can be changed if we only get involved and give voice to our concerns.
If you find yourself shouting at the telly more than is good for you, why not give politics a go?
After all, it’s down to all of us to change the way politics is done in this country. It isn’t some weird activity separate from life. It’s about how we live together. And at the very least I think that means recognising that it can be human and humane, and above all good fun.
So let’s put the party back into party, for just as we should be passionate about our politics, so we can also rediscover the joy that happens when we come together and attempt to make our country a better place to live.