First I need to state for the record that shaving my chest hair into the shape of the batman symbol was NOT a non-sequitur response to my recent trip to the Tory party conference. It's just been a busy and long week and that was an easy post to throw up while I wrote this whole mess up. Who knows, by the end of this, I'll probably wish that I'd stuck with my hairy nipples as a surreal anarchist protest.
You see the problem is that the event was the single most boring but curious things to happen to me since I swore off LSD five years ago. The local blogging community were invited as a charm offensive, a way of engaging the local grass roots press and show of the Conservative forward looking values. The probably would have done better inviting these guys. I was only invited because someone must have thought it would be funny, that I would get good and drunk on the free booze and shout at someone. I admit this was my intention, I envisioned some pseudo-Hunter Thompson fear and loathing epic. Obviously I and who ever chose me, was disappointed at the Grey and conservative reality.
more after the jump
Being the dyslexic and admittedly lazy bugger that I am, the morning of the conference I still hadn't sorted out my accreditation. So I was asked to step in the back room and talk to some police officers. Naturally I was a little nervous, how far back do these security checks go? I mean I've been arrested but never formally charged or cautioned, I was even a member of the communist party once*. So I sit down not so much nervous as unsure, on my back foot. Paperwork is exchanged and I am invited to sit down.
"Why are you attending the conference?" I'm asked as amicably as a six foot skinhead police officer can muster. A bit of a laugh? Free booze? Beats working? Cause trouble?
"Me and some others have been invited to have a look around and check out the new media being launched" I surprise myself by smooth saying.
"Tell me about the company your from" Now this was trickier, how do I tell him that the company he thinks I work for is just a loosely affiliated group of semi-drunks that organise over the Internet? And, for all I know, the only experience this guy has of the Internet is that it's where 16 year old teenagers wank themselves silly and learn how to make napalm.
"There was just a few of us locally that use the Internet that got invited" plumping for vague. At that moment I see BOUNDER walk past with a new haircut**, pointlessly I try and attract his attention from a first floor window. But, to the police officer, it must look like I'm squirming in my seat.
"No need to be nervous Mr Smith" was it me or did he pronounce "Mr Smith" in the same suspicious tone that I get when trying to check in to hotels?
"Oh no" I laugh "I just saw someone I know" and indicate outside, just as a large black apple happy hobo shuffles past. At that point paperwork saved the day because the conversation swung back to passport details and shortly after I was dismissed to wait for a text message to tell me my pass was ready.
Retiring to the nearest bar and squinting against the early winter sunshine I the barmaid for a pint of cider with, as it's early and warm, some ice. She looked sheepish and told me that, because of the conference, they had run out of ice. What the Tories needed with a bars worth of ice at eleven in the morning, I'm afraid to say, remains a mystery.
I've always liked being in my city centre and feel comfortable in its crowds, bustle, and corners. I think one of the reasons I felt a little weird about the conference was the imposition on it. One corner of the city overrun with grey suits, all white, and middle aged with crisp RP accents. Deviation from this was rare and very noted. In fact while on my way for a much needed wee, the gentleman behind me, only seeing the back of me, announced in his clearest voice.
"There is a lady in the gents toilets" now this could have been an attack on my appearance, but it's more likely that it was just a mistake, the thought that a man could have shoulder length hair and thus be different from the standard not even occurring to him. I was laughing as I pissed and he was embarrassed enough to lock himself into a stall until I was gone. But I'm skipping forward.
Suitable fortified by my iceless cider and now met up with Bounder we enter the security tent to be frisked by a Ghurkha, to my shame I thought there was only one of them and put the reason why my frisks seemed to get more intimate as the day progressed down to a blossoming, if somewhat formal, relationship with the same man. This turned out not to be true when I saw three Ghurkhas having a break together looking remarkably similar, better to have loved and lost and all eh?
The hall itself was peppered with stalls, the first being a very slick and well produced one promoting Manchester. I've got to admit at this point that no matter how much the presence of the conference disconcerted me, it was undeniably good for the city. So the sight of another city shamelessly presenting how great it was felt a little like an attractive man hitting on your girlfriend on your first date.
"Hey baby, is this guy boring you? Do want to meet the Happy Mondays?"
Me learning about whales thanks star-one
From here on in it becomes a little harder to write about because of the dullness, it would be much easier to write if they were all noticeably capitalist lizards, or very far right. But nobody was overtly selling AK's to dodgy African regimes or marching about "Seig Hieling" in jack boots. In fact, on the surface there was little to indicate any distasteful political leanings at all, just little clues; a pro-fur stand attracting no protest or even a sideways look, large prints of Thatcher being sold for £200 a pop, the use of the word use of the word "freedom"***, which along with "purity" – unless used in water or panty liner advertisements – is normally always the rhetoric of the reactionary and Far Right.
The fact that there may actually be darker opinions underneath the façade of dullness came early on with this example of twattery at a talk about "online equality"; the government liaison and head of Gov3, Andrew Pinter said, as an catty aside to the point he was making;
"Although some of these low income families say they can't afford broadband but they can afford big screen TVs". The comment itself, although an odious example of class snobbery, was pretty tame, it the approving reaction that it got that bothered me. This was a safe space to make these comments, the reason why there was no swastika waving displays and "fuck the poor" banners was there didn't need to be, they're not recruiting here. For those that have never been to a gay bar one of the most striking things normally is the surprising lack of noticeably "gay" behaviour, a few clues here and there sure, but in their safe space no ones got anything to prove.
I suppose at this point I should acknowledge my own bias, I grew up a lefty and like any person of medium or above intelligence and an ounce of empathy still lean that way. I was always going to be looking for the bad things of the conference because the Tories were the boogy men of my youth, Thatcher the milk snatcher and all that. I'm not entirely sure why the local blogging community was invited to the conference, I'm glad I was but will never feel smart, educated or interested enough to comment on the political (hatred for local councillors aside) But as much as I would hate to be a bad guest, I wouldn't feel right recording my thoughts truthfully here.
*recruited on the street by a pretty girl, and walked out of the first meeting halfway bored of the rich kids squabbling.
**to avoid Boris Johnson jokes apparently
***it turns out the "freedom zone" one of the fringe events I attended was sponsored largely by the Freedom association a far right lobbyist group founded by Norris McWhirter, him of record breakers and famous anti-communist and opposition to the CND