Swoon-worthy defectors won over the Lib Dem conference. The calm was refreshing — for the time being

Ayesha Hazarika
Ayesha Hazarika

I just popped my Lib Dem conference cherry. And it was kind of fun. Apart from something called “Glee Club”, which Louis Theroux needs to do a deep dive into. Although I’m a Labour member, as a political commentator I headed down to Bournemouth to gauge the mood. The Lib Dems are arguably having a bit of a moment, following decent election results and a slew of defections to them after Jo Swinson became leader.

Bournemouth has bad vibes for me, as the last time I was there was in 2007 when I was a Labour Party adviser, and we had a nightmare with the whole “election that never happened” under Gordon Brown. We all spent a lot of time being chased by reporters, who would suddenly spring out of plant pots, yelling: “Does Labour support a snap general election, yes or no?” Plus ça change...

But this was very different. Everywhere I went, I was greeted by smiling, happy people thanking me for coming and being all … what’s the word for it … erm… oh — nice. It was weird. But as the sun shone and the sea sparkled, I relaxed into it. It was all so mellow yellow. It was like being politically stoned.

And that’s how my former Labour colleagues Luciana Berger and Chuka Umunna felt. Berger famously needed a police escort at last year’s Labour conference, so it was rather lovely to see her wandering around with her new baby, getting showered with affection. Umunna looked like a man reborn as people in sandals swooned every time he swished by.

They told me they felt safe. In many ways this wasn’t Swinson’s conference, it was theirs — the defectors or newcomers. That she had the generosity and lack of ego (for now…) to allow that to be the case was smart, and plays well into the narrative that the Lib Dems are seen as inclusive and harmonious, in contrast to the brutal turmoil within the Tory and Labour parties.

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Their decision to revoke Article 50 if elected as a government also gives them startling clarity on Brexit at a time when Jeremy Corbyn still can’t pick a side, and Boris Johnson is flailing and fighting on all fronts. The Lib Dems are hoping to build on the success they had at the European elections by doubling down and being the purist Remain party, especially here in London.

"Beware the first flush of new party love. I remember the euphoria over Change UK’s cheeky Nando’s photocalls"

But a note of caution. Beware the first flush of new party love. I remember similar euphoria when those same defectors left to join Change UK (or whatever it was called). It began with cheeky photocalls in Nando’s and fell apart when the reality of internal politics kicked in and they tried to agree actual policy beyond Brexit. And within the Lib Dems, there will be differences of opinion, too.

But at the conference, it was refreshing to witness a political party at ease with itself. For the time being. By the time I left, all the niceness was almost too much to bear. Thank goodness for the Labour conference this weekend.

Riley is right — stop feeding online trolls

Rachel Riley (Dave Benett)

Two high-profile women have recently spoken out about how online abuse has affected their lives. Little Mix’s Jesy Nelson revealed how being bombarded by messages about her appearance drove her to attempt suicide.

And Rachel Riley from Countdown said that after she spoke out about anti-Semitism the level of trolling she got was so vicious that her unborn child stopped kicking in her womb for two days due to stress.

The former Strictly star was so worried about the health implications for her baby that she blocked more than 1,000 trolls. She is now backing a campaign to help people better protect themselves against online hate by not engaging with trolls and blocking accounts. This is much needed. We know social media can be toxic, especially Twitter, yet we use it regularly with no boundaries.

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I often get asked if I get abuse. To which the answer is: I’m a woman with an opinion, of course I get abuse. The fact that I am on the Left, and that I am a woman of colour and a Muslim, makes it a thousand times worse. Many of the lovely white male political commentators I share a sofa with on TV have been shocked at the level of vitriol I receive compared to them.

I agree with Riley — you don’t have to respond to, or even see, the hate you get. Don’t feed the trolls. Starve them of the attention they crave.

Summer loving for our spidery visitors

As if the news isn’t bad enough, scientists have just told us that the warm, wet, moist (yuck) summer has meant additional houseguests… spiders.

I am already borderline hysterical at this thought.

A lot of spiders seen inside at this time of year are males on the hunt for a mate. Oh great, it’s Arachnophobia meets Love Island — with more screaming.

Apparently the insects are most active at 7:35pm, when it’s happy hour, and the next morning between 6am and 8am, presumably as they do the scuttle of shame back to their web.

I think we all have enough to deal with right now without this national emergency.

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