When asked by my family in January what I would like to do in 2016, my response was “attend my first Labour conference.” I was lucky to discover that the conference this year would be in Liverpool, so close to home, so I applied as soon as I had the chance. Unfortunately I could only go for the Sunday because of college. Despite this, I still had a brilliant day learning more about the party and meeting some amazing people.
On the way there I tweeted Owen Jones asking if he could sign my copy of his book, “The Establishment.” Almost immediately he replied “Sure!” but unfortunately I didn’t see him at the event. However it was still nice to get a tweet from him because he was one of the people who inspired me to start tweeting/blogging about politics. Hopefully I’ll get to meet him next time.
I arrived at the conference at about 10a.m. After going through the security checks I met up with my friend Chloe from college.
As we walked into the exhibition hall I spotted Diane Abbott but was too nervous to say hi. I realised that I was going to see a lot of politicians throughout the day. We went into the exhibition hall and I instantly spotted Peter Dowd ,the MP for Bootle, who I know personally, so it was great to catch up with him. We walked up the stairs to the top floor, past lots of TV cameras and reporters, to see what was there. I spotted Tom Watson, but because he seemed as though he was in a hurry I decided that I’d try and meet him later instead. Also spotted Jess Phillips being interviewed for the TV.
We went into the large conference hall to see the welcome speeches. There was a very moving obituaries section which included tributes to Denis Healey and Jo Cox. I saw Corbyn give out some membership awards too.
At this point I received a message on Twitter from Charlie who I’ve been in touch with since the general election. The message simply read “look to your right” and there he was, so I waved and we got to catch up at one of the fringe events later on.
We decided to attend the Young Labour Welcome fringe event after the conference hall. However the conference phone app stated that this started at 12, when it was actually on at 12:30. Luckily there were free refreshments- so I can’t really complain! Before the event started I got to meet George Aylett who ran for Parliament last year aged just 19 and with over 300,000 twitter followers is arguably more famous than most of our own MPs! I’ve been in touch with George ever since May last year (and I interviewed him last year, too) so it was great to have a chat. We both agreed that the whole party needs to get behind Jeremy in order to win the next election.
We were lucky to have Iain McNicoll (the General Secretary of the Labour Party) come into our session to talk to us and answer some questions. He seemed friendly and very passionate about getting young people involved in politics.
Straight after the welcoming event was a Young Labour Question Time with a great panel of guests including Cat Smith, the Shadow Minister for Voter Engagement and Youth Affairs. The debate was very interesting with some excellent questions asked. I managed to meet Cat Smith after the session to ask if I could interview her for my blog in the future. She was happy to help and gave me her card so I could send her some questions. Watch this space!
We decided to have a look round some more of the stalls. On the way into the hall I saw Jess Phillips again so I decided to go and say hi as I think she’s a brilliant MP and I admire the way she fights off trolls on Twitter. Our conversation went something like this:
Me: Hi Jess
Me: I’ve interviewed you a couple of times via email for my blog, so it’s great to finally meet you
Jess: Oh right! (Fiddles with her iPad) I can’t seem to get an internet connection here?
Me: Yes, I’ve had that problem- sometimes the wi-fi works and sometimes it doesn’t here
Jess: Well that’s shit! If they can get the internet to work in South Korea then surely they can get it to work here.
This made me laugh a lot. I said thanks again and walked away. She’s so funny and down-to-earth, and there really aren’t enough people like that in Parliament. Look out for when she’s next on Have I Got News For You, because she really is hilarious on that!
We walked round the different stalls again and took an online quiz to determine which government role would be best for me. I’ve always said that Education Secretary would be my thing, but the quiz said that I would be best at Foreign Secretary which intrigued me. The guy running the stall said that “maybe there’s a little bit of Boris Johnson” in me. I was offended!
I also went to the BBC stall to talk about careers in the media which is definitely what I’m hoping to do in the future.
After walking back and forth for a bit, we decided to stand by the main entrance for a bit. We were disappointed that we had not managed to see or meet any of the big names walk past us yet. I always seem to get lucky at events like this, as I always seem to find the right places to meet people at the right time.
We waited for a bit, surrounded by cameras (if you see me on any news channel or video then please let me know!) and we were asked to move out of the way a couple of times.
I got excited because I saw Yvette Cooper walk past so I said hi and shook her hand. She said “pleased to meet you!” and it was nice that she stopped and said hi to me despite how busy she was. I’ve admired her as an MP for a few years and I always thought she used to wipe the floor with Theresa May at Home Secretary’s Questions a couple of years ago. I actually gave her my 2nd preference vote for leader in the contest last year, so it was great to finally meet her. She was very friendly and answered any questions that people asked her.
Straight after talking to me she was interviewed by CNBC. It was fascinating to watch her being interviewed from behind the scenes- to see how interviews are conducted at events like this.
We did some more waiting round, before someone from Labour Students came and offered us a raffle ticket for the chance to win some amazing prizes including a signed “Ed Balls” tweet. This made me laugh. Unfortunately I didn’t have any change on me so I couldn’t get a ticket. I already regret not entering the competition!
You can tell when someone high-profile is about to walk into the conference, as they’re followed by a large crowd of people. I spotted Angela Eagle and shook her hand and said hi. I asked her if I could email her some questions for my blog and she said “Yes, alright” which was kind. There was a photographer (presumably for one of the news channels or papers) who took a photo of me talking to her. If anybody comes across this photo then please let me know!
I like Angela- some of the abuse which she has received from inside her own party is absolutely unacceptable and a disgrace. Hopefully I’ll be able to interview her soon, either via email or in her office.
After Angela I spotted Diane again. This time I was brave enough to say hi and shake her hand.
Me: It’s nice to meet you
Diane: Thank you
Diane is someone who I didn’t really have an opinion on previous to the conference, because I agree with her on some issues and disagree with her on others. She’s one of the most approachable people that I met yesterday and she seemed happy to meet ordinary party members, particularly young members like myself. I saw her being interviewed for the TV after I met her (I’m probably in the background!)
A few minutes later I noticed that a large group of people were gathered around someone just down the corridor. I decided to follow them and it turned out it was Dennis Skinner! As Dennis is one of my political heroes I tried to get as close as I could to hear him speak.
We got to listen to him speak about Tony Benn and Jeremy Corbyn. After this, he was interviewed by CNBC about the party uniting and Dennis said that we are where we are today (the biggest political party in Europe) because of the membership. As Dennis emphasised the word “membership” he was pointing and looking at me which made me feel special and inspired. He also told us that “Tedious Theresa” is already worse than “Dodgy Dave”!
I was very lucky to to be able to shake Dennis’ hand and I did ask him for a quick photo, which he very kindly agreed to, despite being in a rush. Unfortunately I wasn’t looking at the camera and my facial expressions don’t make me look like I was very excited (trust me, I was!) I think I’m pulling that face because someone was shouting something at him, or because a reporter was trying to take a photo. Either way, I don’t mind because I still got to meet a true living legend!
I didn’t think I’d get to meet anyone else after meeting Dennis Skinner, but I was wrong. We went back to the main entrance to see if we could spot anyone else, and in the corner of my eye I spotted someone in a hurry wearing glasses, lipstick, and a pink beret. I suddenly realised that I had spotted one of my favourite comedians, Eddie Izzard! I found the courage to say hi and shake his hand.
Me: Hi Eddie, it’s great to meet you- I’m such a huge fan!
Eddie: Hi, good to see you-that’s great!
I quickly asked him if I could get a photo before he had to go.
Me: Could I get a quick photo please?
Eddie: Yes sure, as long as you give me a phone to take it with
Eddie’s PA: Or you could take it on mine and send it via bluetooth?
Since my (pre-historic) Nokia Lumia doesn’t have a front camera, Chloe kindly let me use her phone to take a photo with. Eddie took the phone off her and went to take a selfie. He then realised that the lighting was awkward in the place that we were standing.
Eddie: Goodness, the lighting’s way too bright here. Should we go over there where it’s a bit darker?
Eddie skipped to the other side of the room and raised the phone to take the selfie. He kindly took the photo and I thanked him again and said goodbye.
After he said goodbye I asked Chloe if she knew who that was and she said no which was amusing because a big deal had been made about getting the photo taken. I told her that it was Eddie Izzard and she was shocked because she didn’t recognise him. Chloe also told me earlier that she was borrowing that phone from her nephew. It’s not everyday that your phone is used by Eddie Izzard!
Meeting Eddie made me very happy and I was very grateful that I was able to meet him and get a photo taken. Eddie is someone who has performed on stage with Monty Python, made me cry laughing with his stand-up routines (particularly this one: www.youtube.co.uk/watch?v=x1sQkEfAdfY) and he’s also someone who inspired people all across the world by recently running 27 marathons in 27 days. It’s all about being in the right place at the right time. If I’d been somewhere else then I’d have missed him.
A few minutes later I saw Tom Watson walk past me so I stopped him to say hi and shake his hand. It seemed that he was in a rush so I thought he’d have to move on, but I was surprised that he stopped to have a proper chat with me. He asked me if this was my first conference so I told him that it was and he asked if I was enjoying it. I told him it was great, that I didn’t know what to expect and I’d done lots already. He seemed genuinely interested with what I had to say- no wonder he was elected as deputy leader!
As we were talking, an old lady in a wheelchair came up to him and said “Hi Mr Watson, can I just say I think the £25 voting fee was a disgrace.” Tom Watson agreed that this shouldn’t have happened, and people might as well pay the £26 fee to become a full member and fully participate. After the lady left, I asked Tom if I could get a photo with him. We were stood in front of the transparent windows so the sun was making the room very bright. Tom said “How about we go over there where there’s better lighting?” So we each got a photo with him and said thanks for his time and that it was great to meet him. He told us to enjoy the rest of the conference which was nice.
Tom was very friendly and great to speak to. He follows me on Twitter so I’ll have to ask him if I can interview him soon. He’s clearly very interested in engaging with young people like myself and listening to what we have to say.
In the distance I saw Hilary Benn walk into the entrance hall. His Dad, Tony, was one of my political inspirations. I decided to go up and say hi.
Me: Hi Mr Benn, it’s great to meet you
Hilary: Hi, you too
(At this point, because Hilary reacted slightly awkwardly, almost as if I was speaking the wrong person, I started to feel embarrassed about whether or not it was actually him that I was speaking to. I glanced down at his name tag which read “Hilary Benn MP” and I let out a huge sigh of relief)
Hilary: I’m just finding my way around
Me: Have you just arrived?
Hilary: Well I’ve just been at the Yemen Vigil. What’s your name?
Me: I’m John
Hilary: It’s nice to meet you John, is this your first conference?
Me: Yes it its- I didn’t know what to expect but it’s slightly bigger than I thought it was going to be
Hilary: Well there’s plenty of fringe events to visit and take part in
John: Yes I’ve been looking at a few of those. It’s been great to talk to you
So (in a slightly awkward fashion) I got to have a chat with Hilary Benn! I may not have agreed with Hilary’s controversial speech about bombing Syria, but I strongly admire the passion that he delivered during that speech, and I would love to see him back on the front benches soon. Hilary was interesting to talk to and I can’t believe he receives so much hate from people in his own party, it’s a disgrace.
We agreed that we would definitely go to the “Big Brexit Debate” at half-five because Ed Miliband was going to be speaking in it. Ed Miliband is the man who inspired me to join the Labour Party, and I truly believe that our country would be in a much better position if he had become the Prime Minister. We went and got the best seats that we could. By 17:20 there were pretty much no ore free seats available, and people were already beginning to stand up. This was going to be a popular event. Ed arrived at 17:25 or so and the queues started to form for people who wanted a selfie with him.
We debated whether we should join the queue or wait until the end for a photo. In the end, I’m glad we decided to join the queue before the debate because he needed to leave quickly afterwards to make his way to another fringe event. Ed kindly chatted to members and posed for photos with everyone who queued up. The man in front of us told him that he had named his daughter “Millie” after him. Ed found this amusing and asked how she was doing.
I was now next in the queue and introduced myself and shook his hand. He was so nice to me, just as I had imagined him to be. He was so down-to-earth and friendly and it made me slightly upset that he will never have the chance to be the Prime Minister.
Then Chloe went to take a selfie with him after me, but somebody pushed in front of her. “Erm!” he said, “I think this young lady was in the queue first. There is a queue” in a jokey way which we found amusing. As she was taking her photo with him, Chloe said “You must be fed up with all of this,” to which he replied “No, it’s fine!” They say you should never meet your heroes, but I’m so glad I had the chance to meet Ed who I’ve been wanting to meet ever since I joined the Labour Party in Spring 2014.
We went back to our seats as the debate was about to start. The chair of the debate opened with this statement:
“Now there’s been an issue within our party that has been going on for a while now. An issue which has divided us all. But now it’s time for all of us to get behind him, because he is one of our own. And the only way he can win is if you go home and vote…for Ed Balls on Strictly Come Dancing!” Everyone in the lecture hall roared with laughter and there was a huge round of applause for the joke. After the laughter he stated that this was not a comical debate as it would be focusing on the truly serious issue of Brexit. However there were jokes scattered throughout, mainly from Ed himself who joked about travelling to Liverpool via train and he should have, out of courtesy, sat on the floor.
The debate was really interesting, however, and we got to here from other MPs such as Rachael Reeves, Lisa Nandy and Chuka Umunna (who was probably the best speaker that I heard all day.)
After the debate Ed had to leave quickly so I’m very glad that we met him beforehand. Outside the lecture hall I spotted another huge crowd of people, this time including reporters with cameras. Of course, the person they were following was Ed Miliband.
As everyone was leaving I said goodbye to Peter Dowd who was near the exit as I was leaving. I was too tired to do any more walking around so I went outside and took some photos of the beautiful skyline of Liverpool- the city where I was born and where all of my family is from. I’m so lucky to have such a prestigious event practically on my doorstep.
I was originally going to be interviewed by a journalist for BBC5Live but I was keeping in touch with her throughout the day and she said that unfortunately she’d been sent out to do some reporting elsewhere, so wouldn’t be able to meet up. That was unlucky, but maybe if I had gone for the interview then I wouldn’t have met Eddie Izzard or Ed Miliband.
I had a brilliant time at the conference and made lots of new memories that I’ll treasure forever. I can’t wait til next year!