and finally... Sun, seagulls and standing orders

Chris Proctor goes to the NUJ conference


here is nothing like a British seaside town: the brass bands on the prom prom prom; the invigorating aroma of chips frying; the cries of the seagulls and the candy floss vendors;

the creaking boards hosting the fading careers of ex-X-Factor favourites. Southport has all these attractions and more. It was home to the exiled Louis Napoleon before he de-Bona-parted for Paris to become emperor of the French; Red Rum lived there; and it hosts the British Lawnmower Museum whose 200 restored exhibits can all be viewed for £3 – a mere 1.5p per machine. Last month, in addition to these attractions,

Southport hosted the NUJ conference. Not all month, of course. Just a few days. Some stayed next to the conference hall in a hotel called the Ramada Plaza, whose name sounds liked something out of Bill and Ben. Or maybe I was still thinking of mowing machines. It was heartening to see journalists out of the office.

A few decades ago, a pack of industrial correspondents and a gaggle of political scribblers were employed to follow conferences from resort to resort from late summer to early autumn. They could regale for hours on drinking sessions, colleagues’ antics, night porters, bedbugs, mis-filings, lost keys and hospital visits. And they knew their pitch inside out. Nowadays, the NUJ apart, you see more scarab

beetles at seaside conferences than you do journalists. Media money men want you in front of a screen, under the eye and away from expense claims. They argue you can get the facts from the office. And so you can. But you don’t necessarily get the story. Even a cursory glance at the agenda revealed this to be unmistakably a conference of journalists. Other unions might ‘oppose’ a measure. Not us. When we don’t care for universal credit, mere ‘opposition’ is far too mundane. We call on the executive to ‘overturn, delay, stymie and frustrate’ its provisions. Splendid prose! The standing orders committee clearly comprises subs of the highest calibre. One motion was declared out of order for ‘being void for uncertainty of meaning’. I thrilled at this striving for quality journalism, and mourned that our SOC could not make

similar rulings in parliamentary discussions. How useful they would have been during the Brexit debate. I noticed Michelle Stanistreet flinch when they

ruled ‘The following amendment puts the motion in order: ‘delete general secretary’ I discovered another feature of Southport when I

was wrestled from the hall, summoned to meet a colleague in the Victoria, a hostelry. I was not acquainted with. And, with the sun shining into my eyes, I sought directions. I made out the indistinct shapes of two approaching chaps, and hailed them. Gradually I realised they were dressed rather similarly to myself, with white shirts and dark trousers and waistcoats. Like me, they had identification badges – but theirs were not conference credentials but evidence of their Mormon mission. Unsurprisingly, they were not familiar with the Victoria but they did advise me of a high percentage of their creed in the town. Back in the hall, my unseasoned and lubricated

eye fell upon an addendum to a motion reading ‘London Magazine Branch. £3,000 if active monitoring required’. Did this refer to the branch? I wondered. I was disabused when a proposal on the next page concluded: ‘60+ Council. £1,000’. I was confident no one was going to pay that for the council. It transpired that the NUJ has the sensible provision that motions contain an approximate amount that any proposed measure might cost the union if adopted. Roy Jones, a member of the aforementioned

august council, pointed out to me a huge change that had come over union conference halls over the past few decades. The tables, floors and pockets of delegates used to be overflowing with newspapers of every hue. Any union gathering was a tree-fellers’ delight. In Southport, there were probably more agendas than newspapers on show. It’s good to see that some things remain the same. The hall still maintains a strong conviction that the executive has got it wrong. It’s not just the NUJ, of course. It’s a general trade union instinct that any vestige of authority should instantly be undermined. I couldn’t help but think that, like the road to the seaside, this is a healthy approach.

26 | theJournalist

Page 1  |  Page 2  |  Page 3  |  Page 4  |  Page 5  |  Page 6  |  Page 7  |  Page 8  |  Page 9  |  Page 10  |  Page 11  |  Page 12  |  Page 13  |  Page 14  |  Page 15  |  Page 16  |  Page 17  |  Page 18  |  Page 19  |  Page 20  |  Page 21  |  Page 22  |  Page 23  |  Page 24  |  Page 25  |  Page 26  |  Page 27  |  Page 28