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Heroically spirited versus rigidly ironic: the contrast between Labour & Tory conferences was astounding


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“Jez we can”, “Jez we can”, “Jez we can”! The idolising chants ricocheted around the packed out conference hall in Liverpool as Labour’s victoriously re-elected leader walked on stage to deliver his Leader’s speech. As Corbynites young, old, black, white, middle class, working class, joined in the standing ovations and rapturous cheers that filled the teeming auditorium, Corbyn opened his speech by warmly thanking those involved with the campaign and making a couple of well-received jokes about the seats on Virgin Trains being empty!

From Liverpool’s iconic Albert Dock, Corbyn paid tribute to the courage, dignity and fight shown by the families and campaigners of the Hillsborough disaster, a heart-felt acknowledgement that was passionately received at the Liverpool venue.

Travel south to Birmingham several days later to the Conservative Party Conference and the atmosphere in the Tories’ hall doesn’t quite share the revelry and spirit the opposition’s enjoyed.  Granted, as Theresa May, Britain’s new (albeit unelected) Prime Minister walked on stage, she was met with applause – a more refined, stifled and controlled applause that didn’t quite match the affectionately rapturous welcome the Labour Party Conference attendees showered their leader with.

Stood behind a slogan that read “A Country That Works for Everyone”, somewhat echoing the Labour Party Conference’s own motto “Working Together for Real Change,” May’s signals that Britain is heading for a hard Brexit, didn’t quite exemplify the bold, equality-for-all slogan placed in prime position on the plinth.

In true party spirit, Corbyn seized the opportunity in his leader’s speech to have a Tory-induced grouse, mockingly questioning May’s and the Tories’ “shaky grip on power”.

And shaky certainly summed up much of the Conservative Conference and the policies (or lack of them) put forward in Birmingham.

Boris blundered in his usual buffoonish style, embarrassingly referring to Africa as a country rather than a continent. Chancellor Hammond delivered a sleep-inducing speech, droning on about dropping attempts to eliminate the so-called deficit by 2020, and boasting about a ‘Midlands Engine’, resonant of Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse only further south. Yup, it’s safe to say The Guardian’s Andrew Sparrow was spot on when he described Hammond’s speech as the “most boring [speech] delivered to a party conference for at least two decades.”

And as for the Home Secretary’s disturbingly demanding words that urged businesses to declare the percentage of foreign workers they employ, well that’s been likened to passages from Hitler’s Mein Kampf book!

As Amber Rudd’s remarks were frankly criticised for fanning the “flames of xenophobia”, in Liverpool, the shadow Home Secretary delivered a significantly more upbeat speech. He may have resigned as Home Secretary at the Labour Conference, but the reasons for Andy Burnham’s resignation – to concentrate on his campaign to be mayor of Greater Manchester – were warmly received in Liverpool. They might be deep rivals at football but these two leading northern cities are waiting patiently for Osborne’s seemingly elusive Northern Powerhouse to finally come into fruition, and, Andy Burnham, a born and bred northerner with passion, commitment and loyalty to the north, certainly seems to be the man for the job. Yep, Burnham’s pledge to put his efforts into becoming mayor of Greater Manchester and give the north the equality and power it deserves, was justifiably met with elated ovation in the conference hall in Liverpool.

Eager to amuse the auditorium with some Labour-bashing banter, May referred to the opposition as the “nasty party”, repartee that received a predictable chorus of laughter from the obediently-seated Tories. Unable (or unwilling) to gauge the irony of the mockery, the Prime Minister’s speech was beleaguered with underlying malice.

As much of the mainstream media unsurprisingly accepted May’s facade to be a country that ‘works for everyone’, writing glowing reports of a government that’s driven by equality, May’s signals to a hard Brexit, her withdrawal of Britain from the European conventional of human rights, and her Home Secretary’s crackdown on British businesses employing foreign nationals, paints the true picture of exactly which party is the nasty one.

Meanwhile, the Labour Conference and its steadfast leader, whose proud pledges to deliver ‘socialism for the 21st century’ was a genuine and unambiguous message throughout the conference, was living testament of vitality, progression and spirit of the north and that Labour, led by Jeremy Corbyn, really can work together for real change.

As people left the auditorium humming the Red Flag anthem, which Corbyn and others sang on the stage at the close of the Conference, attending such a heroically spirited Party Conference in Liverpool had to be a damn sight better than attending that of the Conservatives – infinitely deflated in comparison and riddled with irony, mockery and doubt.

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