One of the early advertising slogans for the National Lottery was “you’ve got to be in it to win it”. Although my religion prevents me from having a flutter on the bonus balls, I do think that the sentiment applies to political debate. So while John McDonnell effectively no-platformed himself by not showing up at it, I ended up at Saturday’s Compass conference.
The subject of the day was “equality” and plenty of cabinet ministers were in attendance. Harriet Harman announced that the government will be launching an equality commission (or was it a taskforce?) The thing won’t be reporting back until next year. As one person said to do this after 11 years and have it chaired by a baroness looks like the issue hasn’t been particularly prioritised. Douglas Alexander spoke some sense. He told us that John Denham recently said at Cabinet the public wanted politicians that they could imagine living in the same street as them. I didn’t think it was meant to be known who said what or voted in which way around the cabinet table but the analysis is pretty cogent. At another point I felt the minister was a tad uncharitable about Obama but then lots of the Brown high command were allegedly rooting for Hillary.
Oddly enough, rival internal Labour group Progress ran a session which featured Anthony Giddens and was packed to the rafters with standing room only. Asking a question from the floor about “broken society” was someone who described himself as “David Cameron’s trade union advisor”. It was in fact Richard Balfe, former Labour and Co-op MEP 1979-2002 for South East London who crossed the floor after Labour expelled him. It felt like seeing a ghost. The panel unsurprisingly ripped into him although I had a brief chat with him after in which he told me he reads my Tribune column – the one person who seems to have noticed I write it is Tory! His mission to convert union leaders to Conservatism seems wildly optimistic if not deluded nonetheless.
I spoke at a workshop on Englishness with other contributors to the recent Imagined Nation book which went ok but when scurrying off out of the hothouse conference atmosphere back to the tube I couldn’t help thinking that, despite all the well-intentioned high-faluting debate, I’d been in a bit of a bubble for the day. Although it was an interesting event, you can have all the seminars you like but politics needs to be about practical solutions, not whether something would work “in theory”.