So - arrived in Manchester yesterday afternoon. Great apartment, looking out over the Conference centre, but the secure zone means I have to walk all the way round the outside so still takes a while to get in. Suggested to the police officer it would be quicker if I abseiled down from my balcony - at which point he waggled his machine gun at me.
Missed quite a lot of what was going on in the Conference centre and the fringe, because of meetings. (And being waylaid by people I hadn't seen for ages who insisted on having a drink. And just for the record, I don't drink but I have no objection to watching other people do so. In fact it can be quite entertaining). I did spend some time at the End Child Poverty reception, which was really useful - spoke to people from Save the Children, End Child Poverty campaign, CPAG, the Children's Society, NSPCC, Barnardo's, and some great kids from Bradford who I'd met at a Save the Children fringe last year. They're meeting Ed Balls today, and I told them I'd catch up with them at the End Child Poverty rally in Trafalgar Square on October 4th.
I'd really wanted to make the Fabian fringe, which had Polly Toynbee, Iain Duncan-Smith, Liam Byrne and Martin Narey from Barnado's talking about child poverty. But I didn't. I'm told it was really good. When IDS was congratulated on being brave enough to face the Labour masses, he quipped that next week - Tory conference - would be much tougher! From reports, Gordon was really good at the various receptions - Young Labour said he was 'really funny' - and Ed Miliband's rallying of the troops on the opening session of Conference went down a storm.
As for the leadership issue - despite the hordes of journalists roaming round looking for evidence of dissent, I'm going to stick my neck out and say I think it's a non-issue. The real debate this week is about the economy, and how the Party responds to the banking crisis. We have to emerge from this week with a clear direction, and a united resolve to tackle those problems. Jon Cruddas was actually very good on this on TV earlier. Give him a job!
It's frustrating to read some of the press about the leadership. The Express - I read a copy which had been left on the train - had a story that only 8 out of the 25 PPPs to Cabinet Ministers were prepared to back Gordon publicly. Well, I happened to be one of those 8, but if the journalist had called even 24 hours earlier I would have been one of the 'no comments' or wouldn't have returned the call. Which is what my other colleagues did. It says nothing about whether or not they support the PM; it's just that many of us took the view that we didn't want to fuel speculation or add to the credibility of stories by co-operating with them. And then some of us changed our mind and decided that silence would be misinterpreted. I know many Cabinet Ministers have been through the same thought process, which is why they're all speaking out now.
Another annoying bit of reporting was on TV, about the letter that has been signed by 20 MPs calling for the party to unite in supporting the Go Fourth campaign for a fourth term, which John Prescott, Alistair Campbell, Richard Caborn and Glenys Kinnock are launching soon. The BBC reporter took the line that 20 MPs represented fewer than 1 in 10... so it was hardly a ringing endorsement. Well.... as one of the twenty original signatories, let's get this on the record. I was called by Martin Salter MP, asking if I'd sign up. I suggested a few other names who I knew would support it, but Martin said no, we don't need lots of names, just a representative bunch - and then other MPs can show their support by signing up to Go Fourth. We could have got loads more if we'd wanted. And BBC reporter - how come a handful of MPs asking for nomination papers is seen as statistically significant and "obviously" indicative of mass support within the Parliamentary Labour Party, but twice as many MPs signalling their support for the leadership isn't?
Anyway, got to head back to the Conference centre now. Meeting someone from Scottish Credit Unions, then hoping to make the Fabians blogging event. Then meeting Save the Children and speaking at their fringe on the impact of rising global food prices on children (have been swotting up this morning). Then meeting Oxfam, and then a Save the Children event at which Douglas is speaking. I'm told he was excellent at the Compass/ Tribune rally yesterday. It's also the RSPCA's Beer and Curry night, and I've promised to pop in...