HR Hartley

Our
irascible insider on… elderly hecklers at the Labour conference

Unity is great, but dissent is far more
interesting

The
Labour Party Conference in Brighton
last week sported a much more interesting assortment of protesters than its
predecessor, the Trades Union Congress.

"How
did you swing a day off?" I enquired of an angry fox and a frothing hound
trying to penetrate the police cordon around the Brighton Centre. "I
skived," said the fox smugly. "Yeah, I called in sick," replied
the hound, sweating in his false fur. So
much for tackling absence.

At
least they provided a bit of colour at a conference where everyone agreed with
everyone else. We’re in a new era of unity, it
appears. Take the fringe event hosted by left think-tank the Fabian Society, where the TUC’s
Brendan Barber, the CBI’s Digby
Jones and Patricia Hewitt fielded employment questions from a diverse audience
of plain workers, passers by, the odd HR director and the press.

A
retired worker said the push for everyone to get degrees whether they were
academically suited or not made her cross.

"Britain
needs more crafts people with hands-on experience and skills," she told
the panel. "Yes," said Jones, agreeing that "education
snobbery" had to go. "All glittering prizes are associated with the
academic route, and there’s a big cultural job to do," agreed Barber.
"The (degree) snobbery goes back at least 150 years," agreed Hewitt.
"We must break down those old barriers."

They’re
right, obviously. But it isn’t half boring when there’s no dissent. Barber
tried when he told Jones that the CBI was so employer-protective, that all it
really wanted to do was to send "people onto a building site without a
hard hat". Jones, noisily chewing an apple into the microphone, rolled his
sleeves up and began a diatribe. "Puhleeeeeeeze,"
he began. "Boys, boys," warned Hewitt, charmingly. And so everyone
went back to agreeing again.

That’s
great, I suppose, because good employment practice is really going places with
all this agreeing. But it’s all just a bit… well… ‘ho
hum’. I was grateful to the elderly heckler at the back.

"The
minimum wage is just rubbish – it’s too low," she shouted intermittently,
following every now and then with: "Employers are just greedy, and they
make too much profit." Everyone ignored her, of course.

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