The Labour Party Conference is an annual opportunity for left-leaning bigwigs to rub crotches and blow smoke in a pointless, powerless circle-jerk. Every year the streets are flooded in a carnival-style protest opposing a spattering of societal ills. I was here in 2012 to see David Miliband harangued in the street by Ann Power, a vociferous 80-year-old opponent of fracking. Devoid of his scriptwriters and guards, Miliband stuttered, stammered, shat it and scarpered like a newborn rickety fawn.

The same mistake has not been made this year, and security is tighter than Prescott’s belt. There is a fearsome horde of private henchmen welding with the walls like grim steroidal gargoyles. But even that isn’t a patch on the 2010 Lib Dem conference – shortly after they defected to become Tory bootlickers – when a £2.5 million police operation turned Sheffield into a Hitchcockian ghost town. You could almost feel the sniper sights dancing across your skin.

This year, the politicians are holed up in the Midland Hotel. Once scouted by Adolf Hitler as his base of operations for when the Nazis stormed Manchester, Labour’s choice of bunker reflects the Führer’s scrutinous gaze. It’s impossible to sneak a look inside, but the suited slobs who ooze through the door conjure hellish flashbacks of the scumbags who haunt the swanky apartments opposite Westminster. I was there with a friend in 2012. I staggered through the corridors, a nauseating gauntlet of dead-eyed whores hanging from the pockets of gurning politicians, indistinguishable but for the colour of their ties. Something similar is going on in the Midland today, a sordid orgy of handshakes and handjobs, lobbying and frolicking. Party time for the power hungry.

There’s a 20-metre sprint from the doors of the Midland to the gates of the Wall of Steel, the impenetrable fortress that shields the conference from the grasping claws of the public, who’ve amassed in their hundreds to heckle the party members as they make that fateful dash, to scratch at the mirage of political accountability. A good number have come in anger over G4S security, a private corporate goonsquad complicit in Israeli atrocities as well as protecting the conference today. I asked a protestor why he came to bawl at a party that wasn’t in power. “We have to be hard on Labour to keep them in check,” he said. “They’re the only viable alternative to the Tories.”

Round the corner, a G4S thug tangled with teenagers for skateboarding in the street. “You know what you’re skateboarding on?” He nodded at a monument, his pink spaghetti earpiece bleating orders at his brain. “That’s a war memorial. Don’t make me call the police.” Angered by this parody of jobsworth hubris, one of the kids piped up, “Yeah, it’s a memorial. To those who gave their lives to protect this land from being kicked about by the Gestapo!”

Back outside the Midland, a relaxed and stagnant ambience pervades. Journalists are choking from the drought of exploitable angles. No splatterpunk pap-snaps or Freudian flip-flops. No dog-ends of sleaze to scoop up for the gutter press. Given the weight of lurching henchmen, it’s surprisingly easy to loiter, to lose grip on time, submit to the languor and ally with the inertia. The general cell phone buzz and hubbub from drifting politicians is so ear-achingly apolitical we could be eavesdropping at some purgatorial grogshop for bankrupt businessmen.

“0.5% should do it.”

“Can’t you Sky+ it, darling?”

Not at all the fervour of a rapacious political phoenix clawing back the reins of power. The scene became so dull it was ultimately abandoned to cover the acts and antics at Antwerp Mansion, where I caught a crafty chinwag with Labour Councillor Dan Gillard, milling about and toking an electronic cigarette. “I’m supposed to go down there tomorrow,” he said. “But I don’t think I’ll bother.”

“Why’s that?” I asked. “I’ve been itching to get inside.”

“Well, it’s all very boring this official party business. There’s not a lot of interesting stuff going on when your party’s not in power.”

“It seems like Labour have accepted defeat a year ahead of schedule,” I said. “There’s no verve or vivacity.”

He nodded glumly, gazing at his shoes, sucking back a hefty fug of vapour, before unconvincingly regurgitating the official party line.

The “only viable alternative” has never seemed so lacklustre.

Longtom Richardson