More or less accomplished my mission to get the new website and blog up and running in time for Conference, but have now realised that I don't know – or, more accurately – can't remember how to post anything on it. Have to hope that someone in the office does! Arrived in Bournemouth at gone 5am on Sunday, so didn't really do much until the early evening, when I popped into the End Child Poverty coalition's reception. Good to catch up with people from Save the Children, the Children's Society and Barnardo's. I'm already chairing a Save the Children fringe on Tuesday, and have now been roped into speaking at a Children's Society event too. After that I went to the South West Labour reception, to catch up with all the Bristol party activists and MPs, and then to the New Statesman party, which is always one of the highlights of the Conference week. Met up with my old friend Furlong there, who was eagerly anticipating another 'Conference list' session. Last year in Manchester we spent much of our time amusing ourselves by compiling a Top 20 by Manchester bands. Obviously wouldn't get far with a Bournemouth Top 20 (or even 10), so we struggled for a bit with a 'South of London' list, and then conceded defeat with 'Bands from Seaside Towns'. Too tired to stay up late, so in bed by midnight.
Monday was of course all about the Leader's Speech, which I thought was excellent. None of Blair's showmanship; just very serious and setting out a clear vision of where the Party is going under Gordon's leadership. Good stuff on personalised learning, keeping kids in education till they're 18, ensuring the poorest pupils are financially supported through university. Issuing 10,000 hand-held PDAs to neighbourhood policing teams will be popular with police officers in my constituency, who have long complained to me about the burden of paperwork, which has to be completed back at the station, wasting valuable time when they could be on the beat. The £260m being made available from unclaimed assets in dormant bank accounts, to build new youth centres is also welcome; we will have to make sure we get our hands on some of that in east Bristol. Also welcome was the pledge to take tough action to tackle hospital 'superbugs' and to hold hospital cleaning contractors to account if they fail to deliver clean wards. As for the film which immediately preceded Gordon's entrance into the hall, it included clips of his recent visit to the Brunel Academy in Speedwell; yet more praise for the brand new school!
Lots of talk, of course, about whether we should go for a snap election. I'm undecided. I can see why Gordon, having now set out his stall, wants to get his own mandate from the electorate. But logistical details, like getting leaflets printed in time, would be a problem (although to what extent leaflets affect the outcome, I've no idea). If I'd been asked a fortnight ago what the chances were of an October poll I'd have said about 5%; now I'd say it's 50-50, and moving towards 'more likely than not'. Thankfully, it's not my call!