The Conservative Party conference has now rolled out of town, and at the risk of courting a little controversy, these are some reflections on it. I can't do so without giving at least some political perspective. I have described myself as a socialist for some forty five years now and if I have to put a qualifier in front of that it is libertarian. I have been an active member of the Labour Party for thirty five years and there are a whole range of policies of this and the previous coalition government I am totally opposed to. When the TUC marched through Manchester on Sunday my sympathies were 100% with them and their opposition to the government's austerity programme.
However, for those who spat at and abused, indiscriminately, delegates going into the conference, and for those who think the Tories should be stopped from holding their conference in this city I have no sympathy at all. First of all conferences are a vital part of our visitor and tourism industry. 85,000 people in Greater Manchester are employed in the sector, a couple of hundred at the Manchester Central Conference centre alone. Attracting big conferences, and that includes the Tory Party conference, plays a vital part in keeping those people in work.
Secondly our country and the freedoms we enjoy as citizens is based on a consensus around a pluralistic, representative democracy, a consensus that both the Labour Party and Conservative Party are part of. It pains me enormously that at the last General Election we were beaten by the Tories, but beaten we were, and democrats have to accept the decision of the electorate ( though of course fighting to change their minds next time round ), but in a free, democratic country it is inconceivable that any of the main political parties should not be able to have their conference anywhere in the country.
Thirdly, banning things is just not Manchester. This city has a proud history of being at the heart of the fight for political freedom, but also for a more peaceful, tolerant, inclusive and welcoming society. Our relatively recent renaissance as once more a great city is at least partially dependent on our ability to welcome a multiplicity of beliefs into the life of the city. The spitters and the abusers do not represent the spirit of this city, they do not represent the ordinary people of this city, indeed they are the enemy of the ordinary working people of this city, and over the last few days they have embarrassed and damaged this city.