It was an interesting weekend for me. Since 2012 I’ve been going to Labour conferences as “media” rather than as a delegate. This is in large part because I have been avoiding the hurly burly of being involved in Labour party campaigning.
I’ve had less time available with my increasing work and family life, topped off with much of my remaining spare time being taken up with running and moderating this site. Also this site is meant to be for the broader labour movement and it isn’t a good idea to have sysop who is actively partizan for one party on the left. I also have had a personal disagreement where the Labour party had been heading after the 2008 election. Less so now.
But being media at conferences and congresses is an interesting exercise in its own right. The view looks different from the media room. Just how different I didn’t realise until I read Vernon Small’s article yesterday “Lukewarm Labour receives a pick up” and read his first few paragraphs.
Labour’s election year congress started with a whimper – as if the party was struggling to “keep the hope alive”.
All the talk of an enthusiastic campaign team, voter strategies and strong support on the ground looked for all the world like the upbeat preparations of a school first XI about to take on Brazil.
But it ended with a bang as leader David Cunliffe’s speech to a packed Michael Fowler Centre – Labour optimistically claiming more than 1000 supporters – was cheered to the rafters, especially for his promise to fund another 2000 teachers.
My first reaction was a bit of WTF! Was he at the same place that I was for that first day? But I know that he was, because I could see him across the freezing cold of the Wellington High School library1.
But I’ve been at more Labour party congresses than I really care to remember. These are the big meetings that the NZLP has in election year prior to the campaign kicking into full gear. They are largely tasked on the first day with getting the detail about the campaign communicated to the campaign teams. In elections past, I’ve really enjoyed being in those rooms listening to, questioning and commenting on those training sessions because I was involved. But generally only the activists and candidates actually involved in the campaigns find them of much interest.
But much of the interest after my first two congresses was largely in helping to explain how particular bits of the campaign processes actually operated to the newbies trying to do it for the first time. The minutiae in itself gets dead boring after you’ve done it a few times.
But they’re not like Labour conferences when all of remits are getting debated and passed/turned down. Then the activists are discussing policy ideas and politicking for their particular favourites. For media then, the place is abuzz and it is much more interesting to watch.
Since as a member of the media, I was locked out of all of the interesting bits on the first day, I was seeing it a bit more like the media do. A relatively small group of at most 300 politicians, wannabe politicians, and activists talking to each other with a healthy scepticism about talking to media. The interest for the media was the a few standups about new policy, buttonholing politicians and candidates for a quiet word, and a few speeches2. Quite different to how the first day of the congress looks to those involved.
I was rather expecting the first day to be pretty damn boring. So I spent time doing some reading on things that I hadn’t delved into with much depth and writing posts about them. I was also just trying to get a sense of where the Labour party activists felt that they were3.
The second day is usually quite different. There more party members come in to hear the headline policies by the politicians in their various areas, and to get introduced to some of the candidates via speeches. It always finishes with a big bang speech outlining the public campaign policies. This year that was particularly effective. As Colin James (who has been to way more Labour congresses than I have) noted at the end of his latest column
* An aside in the light of last week’s column: More turned out for David Cunliffe’s keynote on Sunday and cheered more loudly than for Key’s a week earlier. Hmmm.
But offhand, apart from the congress in 1990, I can’t think of a single Labour party congress that would have been particularly interesting for media on the Saturday. It is mostly about housekeeping for the campaign. It is dead boring if you aren’t involved in the detail of various campaigns.