The last time I was in Manchester for Labour party conference was 2007. Back in those heady days, the delegates were treated to Blair’s last conference speech, strict airport style security, noise of a Brown takeover, and a plethora of sharply dressed lobbyists hosting champagne receptions.
Fast forward to 2012; Labour are not in Government, Blair is gone, Brown is gone, G4S run the security, there is no champagne, but there still are plenty of lobbyists.
Top of the agenda for Labour in 2012?
1. Personalise Ed Miliband
2. Let the country see what the party faithful assure us is the real Ed.
According to my political handbook that means a heartfelt personal narrative, political cross-dressing, 70 minutes of ad-libbing and a coherent delivery. All of which I am told he delivered on Tuesday afternoon.
Of course, I wouldn’t know if he did or did not perform well because on the other side of the conference hall was an event of much greater importance, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors’ round-table discussion on Housing with Jack Dromey MP, who happens to be the shadow housing minister.
This was the real highlight of my conference.
I found myself sat around a table with all the intelligentsia of the housing sector. Provided were tea, coffee, biscuits and the opportunity to discuss problems, solutions and a means to move forward. The room was abuzz with the previous day’s announcement of 100,000 more new homes to be built from the proceeds of the 4G sell off. People were excited that a mainstream party had finally placed construction at the heart of their economic plans.
Positive energy from the Manchester conference seeped into our discussions as we spoke constructively on Universal Credit, landlord accreditation, licensing and increasing the stock of housing. Being relatively new to the industry I expected to find intransigence and areas of disagreement. How wrong I was. In its place was a sense of optimism and a willingness to work with one another.
This mood can be summarised with an exchange I had with a representative of a well-respected, if not always agreed with, charity.
He: “It would be interesting to see what our colleagues from other side of the fence have to say” (pointing toward me).
I: “Comrade, there are no fences here”.
I am aware that is a somewhat cheesy and personable statement – and don’t worry it’s not compulsory to refer to one another as comrade any more but the message got through. Trying to find consensus in a room full of housing big wigs is difficult but we achieved it here.
Given the success, maybe I should see if Ed Miliband needs a hand ahead of next year’s speech?