Sunday, 21 September 2008

It's All Happening In Manchester

The coming few days see a flurry of political and campaigning activity as the Labour Party circus rolls into town. Whilst the Conference area is sealed off to normal citizens (including most Labour Party members, there are a host of fringes going on around the City Centre which are accessible to the public. There is therefore plenty of opportunity for those outside the Labour Party (indeed who feel there is a huge amount to criticise about said Party) to get involved.

Of particular interest is the Convention of the Left, a coming together of a wide range of organisations who regard themselves on the left of British politics and who are providing something of an alternative conference in the City. It includes many in the Labour Party - veteran campaigner Tony Benn was among those speaking at the launch of the convention). Among the sponsors are Green Left (a collection of Green Party members who take an eco-socialist view and have been seeking to build more bridges with the Trades Unions) and Manchester Green Party. It will be interesting to see how much attention this venture gets and how well the various groupings will rub along in the confined space of the Friends Meeting House lobby! See here for a full programme of the
convention events
There are also an interesting series of fringes on the vital subject of Climate Change run by the Climate Clinic and opportunities to get to meetings on everything from health to civil liberties.

So, get some time off work if you can and make the most of this once in every 2 years opportunity. You may meet some (relatively) famous politicians; you may get the chance to boo and jeer them, or even (long shot this one) change their opinions.

Of course no Labour conference in the City would be complete without a Stop the War demonstration. You would have hoped the need for these would have passed long ago, yet here we are with War in Afghanistan not only hotting up again but spreading to Pakistan. Yesterday's march took place in perfect weather, unusually for recent demos, which must have helped to boost the numbers. Taking that into account the attendance was actually pretty disappointing.

I was stewarding and got a good view of the size of the demonstration, and there couldn't have been more than about 10,000 there at most (the BBC quoted 'over 2,500', probably based on a police estimate). What should also be noted was the makeup of the demo; there were the large contingent of Socialist Worker Party, the other left Parties, some Greens and a significant number of anarchists. This last group seemed to worry the hell out of the Police and the Organisers but all passed off peacefully. The 'ordinary people' of the big 2003 demo and even the 2006 one in Manchester have largely gone. I saw no sign of any Liberal Democrats (apart from a couple on the No2ID campaign) but maybe that isn't surprising these days.

There were also hardly any banners from outside the Manchester area, reflecting my suspicion that people only think events are 'national' when they happen in London.

So maybe it is time to rethink this traditional march from A to B approach, and consider some of the more imaginative approaches coming out of the Climate Camp movement.

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