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Labour conference: Ha, look a juggler… but the mockery misunderstood Momentum’s festival

OPINION: The World Transformed was easy to laugh at but the programme of talks in Brighton was livelier than the main conference guide

28 September, 2017 — By Richard Osley

Ellie Mae O’Hagan speaking at ‘who owns the media’ talk at The World Transformed

WHAT’S the easiest task in what counts for journalism these days? Could it be to provide pithy commentary about those deluded young people who turned out in their thousands to watch Jeremy Corbyn start the Labour Party’s annual get-together with a rally in a park – look, there’s a juggler?

Or perhaps it could be exclaiming “only in Brighton” or “this is peak Brighton” about any act that diverges from the way political conferences have previously been organised? Or maybe it is to walk around The World Transformed, the festival organised by left-wing group Momentum alongside the main Labour conference, and send snarky tweets about the wacky art on the wall?

Sit back and watch the retweets flow in. Job done.

This was more or less how the newspapers’ sketch-writers-at-large spent their week on the Sussex coast, and in doing so perhaps answer themselves the first question of the alternative conference, a talk entitled “Why The Pundits Don’t Understand Politics Any More”, which people were queuing around the block for on Saturday evening.

Sure, it is easy to find something silly in the corridor here that might make a viral post online – a picture of a mouse and keyboard in the shape of a hammer and sickle under the words “seize the memes of production”, for example.  But in reducing The World Transformed to a student union laugh-in, you couldn’t help think that once again they had misjudged this attempt to do something different.

You didn’t have to agree with all of what was being said to see the schedule of talks was of more interest than the diary of fringe meetings hosted inside the main conference, where, aside from discussions on Brexit, the events guide could have been a document from any time in the past 10 years. The same people around the same tables.

Crowds at The Level in Brighton for a pre-conference rally

In old nightclubs, comedy clubs and university theatres, meanwhile, The World Transformed had a different energy. Few journalists ventured the five-minute walk up the road to see what was going on, until Russell Brand, a guarantee click magnet, talked about past addictions.

So, important discussions about media plurality, police surveillance, employment in the post-tech revolution – and the relevance of grime music and the need to spread the riches in football – went largely untouched by the wider media pack.

Why? Maybe because there was another schlepper with a wacky Corbyn-Che T-shirt stumbling down the road to make fun of.

One of the writers who did make it there, Ellie Mae O’Hagan, sat on a panel in the Komedia club in the Lanes and told how hard it had been to break into journalism in an industry dominated by Oxbridge-educated men who she said had dismissed her working-class roots and accent. Her story was possibly another stage in realising why the rise of Corbynism came as a surprise to so many.

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