Just come from doing Radio 5 Live. They've had a three hour Victoria Derbyshire show in front of a live audience, with a changing rota of MPs. I was told they wanted me to 'come in at the back end of Jacqui Smith', but I ended up being sandwiched between her and David Blunkett, and naturally they fielded most of the questions. Met a young lad from Bristol, Dominic, who had come all the way to Manchester to be in the studio audience and wants to be a political journalist, so have invited him down to Westminster for PMQs. Also met some of the young PPCS who are standing at the next election: Chuka Umunna from Streatham, Rachel Reeves from Leeds West, and 20 year old Claire Hazelgrove who is standing in Skipton. And then I met Tony, one of the guys doing the security at the Conference Centre - who lives in Church Road, St. George - so managed to do a bit of by-election campaigning too!
After that I headed into the hall for Alistair Darling's speech, which was good, serious stuff. He got a standing ovation and looked like a little boy who had just been given a gold star in front of the school assembly. I know politicians are meant to be ego-fuelled publicity seekers, constantly thrusting themselves into the limelight, but I like the fact some of our Cabinet are so self-effacing. An MP told me the other day how Gordon came to her constituency for the opening of something or other, and when it came to cutting the cake, he handed her the knife; she had to point out to him that the organisation would far rather the Prime Minister of Great Britain did the honours.
Yesterday was OK. Did the Save the Children fringe on food security, went to the South West reception, met up with Oxfam, and then went to the Save the Children reception with Douglas. At any Conference event there is usually a slightly weird delegate hanging around, who attach themselves to Ministers and won't let go. I spotted Douglas being accosted by an unshaven, rather scruffy character with long curly hair, dressed in denim. His Spad was deep in conversation with a journalist, so I knew it was my duty as a loyal PPS to rescue him, so I headed off, full of resolve... Thankfully I was interrupted just before I got there and during the intervening seconds managed to glean the information that the scruffy bloke was in fact the celebrity guest of the evening, the Dad from Shameless.
The Dad from Shameless actually gave a very good speech. Not easy to follow Douglas who is supernaturally articulate; he uses phrases like 'commensurately constrained' which I write down in my notebook but never quite manage to work into the conversation. But the Dad from Shameless did a really good job. He finished on a point about the Manchester City takeover, and how something must be a little bit wrong when millions are being put into a football club when children are living in poverty, which got a big round of applause.
Gordon had spoken earlier at the South West reception. It shows the pernicious effect of media commentary that I found myself thinking, 'wow, he's stringing sentences together, he's making a really cogent argument, he's got the audience eating out of his hands' (and looking pretty trim too - that personal trainer has obviously put him through his paces over the summer). I've seen Gordon speak loads of times, and I've seen him wow an audience loads of times - but it's easy to forget just how good he is when all you read is the negative stuff. And while we're on the media - can I just say how absolutely ridiculous Sky News' reporting of the Progress Rally was? They were running all night with the story that two Cabinet Ministers were calling for a change of leadership, because both David M and Hazel had said we couldn't rely on our past achievements to win the next election. This was seen as a 'coded' message that we needed a change at the top. Well, can I just say exactly the same: we can't rely on our past achievements. You can't fight an election on the basis that ;we've done X, Y and Z for you, so you ought to be bloody grateful'. People want to know what you're going to do next. I wouldn't be surprised if Gordon doesn't say exactly the same thing tomorrow.
On a more trivial note, I missed a scoop yesterday when I was in Starbucks meeting Stephen from the Scottish Credit Unions. (And before anyone pulls me up on patronising Starbucks, show me somewhere else you can get an iced soya decaf latte near Manchester Central conference centre). David M came in with his entourage and apparently had his credit card refused. Is he another victim of the credit crunch?
Something else I've found amusing over the past couple of days is the realisation that absolutely no-one seems to know that the post of forestry envoy, recently vacated by Barry Gardiner, was actually to do with rainforests and deforestation and climate change, rather than, as I think Prescott put it, 'talking to the trees' or as another MP said, 'leading the frontline battle against leylandi'.
Douglas is on at a fringe now, so going to shoot off. More later.