Well, the Manifesto train departed from the Union Chapel in Islington last night. Slowly, and with the inevitable clanking noises, but amidst plenty of goodwill. One thing that struck me as I sat there in the pews was how low-key and decorous the launch turned out to be. The last left-wing gathering I recall attending was a London Labour conference back in the late Eighties, when I was working shifts on the Guardian newsdesk. A surreal affair, crowds of demented hard Left activists huddling in corners, busily plotting to destroy the enemy, i.e. members of the non-hard Left. (I'm talking about the meeting, BTW, although the atmosphere at the Graun wasn't all that different.)
Last night hardly a voice was raised in anger (maybe it all got livelier in the bar afterwards, but I had to head home.) Sweetness and light pretty much all round. Speeches from (L-R) Norm Geras, Alan Johnson, Eve Garrard, Nick Cohen and (out of picture) Shalom Lappin. We didn't learn much that was new, but I guess that wasn't the point.
Me? I was there purely as an on-looker. I signed the manifesto, but I have to get used to the fact that I'm really just a centre-right outsider peering at the kind of people I used to be.
After 45 minutes it suddenly occurred to me that I hadn't heard a single rant against the US of A. No imperialist running dogs, no Bush the barbarian. I take that as a good omen.
One last impression. Maybe it was the ecclesiastical setting, but there's something strangely olde-worlde about a public meeting. My sense of the Manifesto, so far at least, is that the real business, the real passion, is out there on the Internet, where the traditional rule book no longer applies. On the Web, you don't need to write down your question and submit it to the chairman. You just speak.
(Apologies for the poor quality of the photos. The light was low, and I'm no Snowdon.)