House Magazine

‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…’

I couldn’t help thinking of the spell-binding opening lines of Dickens’ masterpiece as I watched the slow-motion car crash that was the Prime Minister’s speech at her party conference. What a contrast with the collective high-five that had taken place in Brighton just a few days before, and with the Tory tub-thumping that we saw in the run-up to the General Election.

No writer has ever surpassed Dickens’ ability to puncture hubris, and if the great man were alive today I have no doubt that he’d be telling us that Theresa May’s fall from grace should be a lesson to us all: never rest on your laurels, and never believe your own hype.

The fringe at this year’s Labour conference was fizzing with ideas and energy. I ended up doing fourteen panels, ranging from infrastructure to skills to immigration. I’ve always felt that the fringe is more twenty-first century than what goes on in the main hall. The interaction between audience and panel is far more dynamic, and the conversation always throws up some really interesting and innovative policy ideas. We live in a networked, hyper-connected world, in which the set-piece platform speech is starting to look and feel like a relic from a bygone era: analogue politics in a digital age?

The Mirror always hosts a cracking party at conference, and this year was no exception. The key to it all is the karaoke (see, even after hours it’s still all about the audience interaction!) and Angela Rayner and Jon Ashworth’s rendition of Pulp’s ‘Common People’ brought the house down.

Somewhat bleary-eyed I made my way back to Port Talbot, and had the pleasure and privilege of participating in a workshop with a group of 12-14 year olds, as part of a project called LEAD – leadership, enterprise, activism and development. Run by an amazing organisation called Reclaim that I am proud to have introduced to my constituency, it’s about giving young people from working class backgrounds a voice and an opportunity to lead change in their communities. We spent the morning developing these young people’s manifesto for change, and I came away feeling truly inspired by their sense of purpose and determination to make a difference.

Back in Westminster it was a rather different story as the Tory Brextremists were in full flow, determined to sabotage the process and drive us towards no deal thanks to a maelstrom of unrealistic red lines. Uppermost among them being the assertion that the ECJ could play no role in any transition deal, something contradicted in terms by the European Parliament’s resolution last week and by a host of expert witnesses who appeared before us at the Brexit select committee on Wednesday.

I never thought I’d see a connection between Charles Dickens and Brexit, but in fact it is staring us in the face – the dividing line between hubris and nemesis is a very thin one indeed.

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