Cancel, or keep calm and carry on: how the Queen’s death is affecting conference season | Zoe Williams

The opening day at Labour’s get-together will be given over to royal tributes this year. But that’s fine, because I spend most of my time outside the conference hall anyway, listening to the chorus of discontent

I miss the days when the smell of autumn meant you were in line for a new pencil case. Now it means it’s party conference season. The TUC and the Lib Dems had to cancel, their luckless plans falling in the middle of the period of national mourning. What has to be axed and what can continue doesn’t make a whole heap of sense. You can’t go to the football but you still have to go to work. You can’t have a festival of pedestrianisation (Hammersmith and Fulham council cancelled its car-free day at the weekend) but you can go to the gee-gees.

Labour must have had this conversation: what makes us look more patriotic, cancelling or carrying on? It decided to go ahead, giving over the first day of its conference to assorted royal tributes. I wish people would focus more on the bit that comes before “carry on”: “keep calm”. But actually, can it be any worse than regular conference? The first day is always full of big-ticket platitudes, backgrounded by grumbling delegates, going: “I remember the days when we wanted to smash the system.” If anyone accidentally says anything interesting (as a wild for-instance, Angela Rayner calling Tories scum last year) they are pilloried for days and the leader has to go on the radio to apologise for them, as if they have been caught playing knock down ginger, rather than saying something oppositional. It’s quite fun, though, for the endless gaggles of local members, vividly indignant at the speech of some shadow whatever secretary, like the world’s biggest office whinge-fest on an away day. I’ve been to Labour conferences and not set foot in the conference hall, just roamed along the seafront, joining in with the chorus of discontent.

How the Conservatives will cope with this unusual time is anyone’s guess. The delegate mood is generally much more respectful, almost servile, but they have landed on a leader none of them seems wild about, the MPs are less enthusiastic still, there is division in the ranks about why they had to get rid of that fun Boris chap, and the pressure is really on to outgrieve the rest of the nation, while maintaining the stiff upper lips for which the British are putatively fabled. It’s so impossible that, if it were up to me, I’d cancel the whole lot. But then, how would we know it’s autumn?

  • Zoe Williams is a Guardian columnist


Zoe Williams

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