‘The conference photo’

YESTERDAY at the Labour Party’s autumn get-together in Brighton it was the day of ‘the conference photo’. The enthusiastic local branch organisers thanked me for coming as if the monster had been their idea all along.

It had actually all started far too many years ago when the CNJ first began going to the conferences and came up with the idea of getting all the people who had made the effort to travel to come together for a group photo.

It seemed simple enough; more than a decade later and it’s now a set annual diary date. Members from other constituencies puzzle at it (but are secretly jealous of it).

After the first Labour group photo, the Lib Dems wanted one. Then the Tories. And ever since, for every conference – bar one – you will have seen a series of line-ups in the paper, an away day souvenir.

For the local parties, the team shot is a bit of fun, but also a way of showing ‘look how many we’ve got’ to the readers back home (and the opposition for that matter), although look carefully and sometimes you’ll see people from other CLPs have been drafted in to plump up the numbers.

Over the years there have occasionally been squabbles about when and where the snap would be taken. Not everybody stays all week, so it feels pointed to some if it is organised for a time just after they have got the train home.

You can see emerging candidates in the photos too; people pushed to the front, people pushed to the back. When the image is shared, party spotters gossip away: oooo they were there…. and…. ooo why weren’t they there…. This week, they will say ‘not many Corbynites in there‘. Invent your own Kreminology for each picture if that’s your niche.

Sometimes it’s like herding cats. They will mill around on windy seafront until someone shouts ‘Osley take charge here’, which is when former councillor Rob Latham groups them together with his big lens and I take a photo of them half looking at him and his camera, and half looking me. I find myself whinging about it more and more each year.

Still, traditions are traditions.

A local paper still follows the parties around the country. For all the silliness, that’s something in itself. You might not think it now, but you’ll miss local papers when they’re gone.

And Sir Keir Starmer too, appearing with Camden colleagues yesterday, clearly still sees the value and the connection. As leader at his first real in-person conference, he’s had a busy week but still found the time for this funny little ritual: ‘the conference photo’.

Here’s a few from the past. Rishi Madlani scores high for record appearances:

Brighton 2009: Luciana Berger still among the Camden Labour ranks here. Future council leader Georgia Gould standing behind previous leaders Nash Ali and Sarah Hayward. Camden Mayor Sabrina Francis also in there, and Tom Copley now one of the deputy mayors of London under Sadiq Khan.

Manchester 2010: Blokes, blokes, blokes… including Theo Blackwell, who you all know about. Also former cabinet councillors Valerie Leach, Sally Gimson, Phil Jones and Jonathan Simpson – and the late Peter Brayshaw.

Liverpool 2011: Frank Dobson did not always bother with conference but he was up on Merseyside that week. Tulip Siddiq up front with the late Dame Tessa Jowell.

Brighton 2013: Back to the seaside with Sarah Hayward now in charge. Amy Lamé in the pack.

2014 Manchester: Dobbo had announced he was stepping down earlier in the summer… and a new face emerges on the steps.

Brighton 2015: The two new MPs now right up front.

Liverpool 2016: Baby Azalea makes an appearance by the docks. In the know Labour List editor Sienna Rodgers can be spotted to the right of the photo + Ben Nunn who clipboarded for Sir Keir until June this year.

Brighton 2017: The biggest line-up of them all, obliterating the sea view. You make your own lines up here about it being down to Corbyn’s leadership… or alternatively there being council elections just around the corner. What a unified bunch.

Liverpool 2018: Frognal whirlwind Rebecca Shirazi seen here. Probably need to work on exposure settings: Sir Keir is in there somewhere.

Brighton 2019: Hang on, where’s Rishi. Maybe former mayor Nadia Shah is in more of these than him after all. It poured with rain, it had to be done in the middle of everybody’s way in the conference centre and then the whole thing was brought to an early as MPs raced back to Westminster for Brexit votes.

Brighton yesterday: With more and more security around Keir – there are some vitriolic anti-vaxxers among others beyond the cordon – the photo is done Spice Girls style on a hotel staircase. So away you go…. oooo they were there…. and…. ooo why weren’t they there….

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