Things were so 1970s retro at the TUC conference that the opening musical act should possibly have been a T Rex tribute band rather than the young folk singer who had been booked. Once Esme and her guitar had been hastened off stage, things turned less winsome.
There was triumphant talk of national collective bargaining, Etonian privilege and ‘wiping the smugness off the faces of senior managers’. Taxpayers needed to cough up more.
Union leaders were returning to the cockpit of power and the Conservatives’ anti-strike laws would be binned ‘within the first one hundred days of Labour entering office’. Angela Rayner, as deputy prime minister, would ensure that the Starmer government paid homage to the unions and undid the laws that prevented militants holding the country to ransom.
‘That,’ said Ms Rayner, ‘is a cast-iron guarantee’. And they cheered and whooped and I saw middle-aged men with shaved heads and neckrolls of suntanned gristle – basically great ropes of Gregg’s sausage roll – exchange grim, satisfied nods.
The unions need Ms Rayner and she, whom Sir Keir Starmer fears, needs the unions; which is why, at the end of her brisk, brusque speech, she formed a little love-heart symbol with her hands and touched her chest to signal her devotion to the cause.
Even trade unions evolve.
Ms Rayner made a love-heart symbol with her hands to signal her devotion to trade unions
Deputy Labour Leader, Angela Rayner, gives her keynote speech at the TUC Annual conference in Liverpool on Tuesday
The TUC today is subtly different from that of five years ago and not at all like the gatherings of wizened pitmen and wheeltappers whose smoke-filled conferences were a menacing part of my boyhood. Today’s unions have learned a few tricks. Image-benders have urged them to reach for sunnier vibes. ‘Winning a better future,’ read a determinedly positive slogan.
One earnest pudding spoke of the importance of the Nolan principles in her life and how ‘they help me to check my own biases’. An Afro-Caribbean sister with Dame Edna glasses and fake eyebrows painted halfway up her forehead started quoting not from Marx but from the Jamaican reggae star Jimmy Cliff.
A veteran trans delegate vowed to stand ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with all oppressed minorities, ‘or if you’re 6ft 5in like my husband, shoulder to ear’. I enjoyed, though could not entirely understand, a Latino lady who had a Manuel accent and a name so long, Martha Patricia Anachury De Bruxelles, that it wouldn’t fit on the hall’s screens. One desperado spoke in a black beret. Very Tooting Popular Front.
These engaging moments were outweighed by a pervading sense of vengefulness and forced affronts. We were told of Tories ‘pursuing their ideological crusade to cut spending’. If only!
The day’s female presiding officer, a ringer for former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, introduced Ms Rayner as ‘one of us’.
Big Ange lolloped to the lectern, tossed her glistening mane and fixed them with a lively eye. I have seen her on more aggressive form but never so sleek or confident.
Quentin Letts writes: ‘Big Ange lolloped to the lectern, tossed her glistening mane and fixed them with a lively eye. I have seen her on more aggressive form but never so sleek or confident’
Deputy Labour Leader, Angela Rayner, spoke at the TUC Annual conference in Liverpool today
She promised an inquiry into the confrontation at Orgreave, South Yorkshire, during the coal miners’ strike of 1984. If that was too recent for you, others mentioned Winston Churchill (‘racist’), the Battle of Cable Street (1936), Aberfan (1966) and the Thatcher government’s beastliness to gay people.
A prison officer had a hearty rant against both the Blair and Sunak governments. ‘Rishi, you had best start listening to us!’ he shrieked. ‘We will kick you out!’ Then he remembered that revolution was no longer an entirely politic thing to mention, so he ended with ‘out with the Tories! In with a royal commission. Solidarity!’
A short debate was devoted to the social injustice of, er, sportswear firms not making separate football boots for girls and calls for women’s football to be given ringfenced slots on television.
Later I went to a fringe meeting about police in Colombia shooting union activists in the eyes and locking them up for years. It didn’t half put a perspective on things. The British Left has picked clean the grievance bone. All that remains is a grouchy desire to see the Tories given an electoral spanking.
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