I have been going to Blackpool for Labour conferences for 30 years, and though it changes, the resort's great virtue is that it stays the same.
The Winter Gardens are a Victorian delight, brightly-coloured tiles and millions of lights like an indoor illuminations to match the proper one on the seafront. And those dingy, cavernous bars! You can make your hungover way into these places at eleven in the morning, thinking a quiet snort will revive your spirits, only to find the brothers have already beat you to it. In the furthest corner will be a craggy-faced trade unionist from from Clydeside, taking a hauf 'n' hauf, and explaining the mysteries of compositing motions to an adoring first-time delegate he met at the engineering workers' "function" the night before. There's nothing like that in Brighton or Bournemouth. More likely, you will be dragged into a focus group to explain how wonderful the great leader is.
Of course, the journey is half the fun. The south coast resorts are too close to get a good session going on the train, but many a policy has been made or broken on the long grind from Euston to Preston. The train is always late, but as you approach Blackpool, through stations in the Fylde with names like Kirkham and Wesham, the first sight of the famous tower stirs old sentiments. Back again! Today, it will be gossip, gossip, gossip in the ample lobby of the Imperial Hotel, properly studded with comfortable chairs, where many a late night sing-song has ended with the police being called. Tonight, it will be a rencontre with Dr Thwaites' Restorative in the seedy Empress, where Tony Blair (when he was nobbut employment spokesman) was notoriously invited to mate elsewhere by those rough boys, the industrial correspondents of the national press.
For Blackpool is nothing if not ruthlessly egalitarian. Where else can you be called a cheeky bugger by a waitress half your age over breakfast in your hotel?
And speaking of hotels, grasping though they are, the hoteliers are discretion itself, as long as you don't make too much noise. Past Labour conferences have been adultery on wheels. In Blackpool, it's surprising the sheets don't snap in half when the chambermaid makes the bed. New Labour's morality inspectors have obviously been at work in this week's deplorable decision. Even the hookers have a sense of humour. One journalist fast asleep in the Imperial was awoken by the noise of a lady of the night clambering into his second-floor bedroom from the outside fire escape. He remonstrated a little, so she threw his shoes out of the window.
And it isn't true that there is nowhere to eat. As well as having the finest fish and chips outside Yorkshire, Blackpool has some very good restaurants. Nothing on the south coast remotely compares with Robert's Oyster Bar, with plain wooden seats, magnificent views of the North Pier and the Irish Sea and wonderful sea food. It is also the only decent BYO eatery this side of Australia. You buys your crate of chardonnay round the corner and quaffs it over a long lunch with a couple of MPs and the delegate from Frome.
Brighton doesn't have trams. It doesn't have Tetley's or Boddingtons. It doesn't have a tower, or a pleasure beach, or mucky postcards, or a decent Trades and Labour Club. Bournemouth has too many hills, and not enough pubs. The conference centres at both are soul-destroying concrete boxes. You know you are only there so they can take your money.
The politics in Blackpool are live. It's heartbeat is old Labour. I've a bloody good mind to go there during conference week, and watch it on the telly.Reuse content