I had the Labour Conference on the telly earlier in the background, and caught the speeches on International Development and Foreign Affairs. To start with, I thought the BBC were televising the wrong event, as the stage has a garish purple backdrop. I though it might be a UKIP bash. Then I spotted the sky-blue header panel with video screens. Maybe I’d got the date of the Tory conference wrong. I don’t know who does Labour’s brand guidelines, but I hope they are giving someone a bollocking for creating such a mish-mash of visual stupidity.
Then came Jim Murphy, fresh from his soapbox tour of Scotland defending the Union. He is one of the tiny number of competent people available to Ed Miliband for Shadow portfolios; and yet in a fairly recent reshuffle, he was booted out of Defence and demoted to International Development. Murphy put the boot into FIFA over working practices in Qatar, which was controversially awarded the 2022 World Cup and where migrant workers are dying at a shocking rate. He made the only half-decent speech of the session.
We did also hear this morning from Vernon Coaker, who now shadows Defence, but he said nothing of any note, and he never does. Labour has got no Defence policy beyond attacking the Coalition for not spending enough. For the record, Labour halved the Type 45 frigate order, fatally undermining the marketplace for warship construction, but now attacks the Coalition for having to deal with the consequences of too many shipyards and too few ship orders. It’s pathetic, and I suspect many in the Labour Party are embarrassed at the weak hand Coaker and Miliband are dealing them.
But we had some moments of unintentional humour amid the dross. First came Dougie Alexander, Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary. He was talking about the crisis of legitimacy politicians at the top level face and what he has learnt on his travels:
All over Britain – in big houses, in little houses, in penthouses and in static caravans, from Bognor to Belfast – people will feel that in Dougie Alexander, Labour has a foreign affairs spokesman with a grasp of things to rival an Ernest Bevin or an Arthur Henderson. That clip was literally the highlight of his speech, which, as with his comments in House of Commons debates on Foreign Affairs, was devoid of any policy or insight into how the problems of the world can be solved. “Can’t we all just get along?” is a reasonable summary.
Immediately afterwards, in a spirit of recognising one who has made such a great contribution to peace and love in the Middle East, Keith Vaz demanded a standing ovation for former Foreign Secretary and Extraordinary Renderer, Jack Straw. It is Straw’s last Labour conference as an MP before he retires to spend more time with his conscience, and the audience shamelessly rose to their feet.
But as the old guard shuffle off, the new recruits arrive. Keith Vaz had been barking at speakers all morning to hurry up like a grumpy NCO drilling new recruits. “Walk to the platform more quickly!”, “Keep your speeches short or you won’t all get in!” A couple of new Parliamentary candidates made the foolish mistake of leaving pauses for people to laugh at their “jokes”, which didn’t help timekeeping, and nobody laughed anyway. The PPC for Great Yarmouth even started by saying, “I’m told it’s a good idea to start with a joke”, but then delivered such a clunker that people forgot she had effectively begged them to laugh at it, and sat there unmoved. Oratory is a thing of the past at Labour conferences. Corporal Vaz seemed to have a bit of trouble deciding what to call female speakers; one was “Sister”, one got a “Madam”, one was “You there in the teeshirt”.
After a couple of excruciating speakers, Vaz ended that debate and moved on to a session on Business. The Shadow Secretary of State for West End Nightclubs, Chuka Umunna, was called upon by Vaz to introduce the next speaker:
Sadly it seems Vaz has never heard of him. Chuka Umanna? Shaka Unamma? Who? Chaka Khan?