`I'm not undressing for you'

The Wrong Correspondent

Continuing our occasional series in which an increasingly confused editor sends the wrong writers to news events... Melanie Rickey, style writer, attends Peter Mandelson's speech on the underclass

Attending a political lecture at Millbank was an exciting prospect: political types in sharp suits, some minders, and of course Peter Mandelson, who's set to reveal important plans to save the underclass. Sounds very high powered. So why does everyone look so bored?

The front six rows are made up of beautifully designed chairs; the most important people sit here, just like at fashion shows. Behind them is a row of television cameras. Then I realise, it's all for show, this conference lark. Beyond the cameras, the chairs are not fabby at all, just standard. The rest of us are back here, fidgeting and slouching in the heat, all waiting for Mandelson.

In he walks, Blair's right-hand man. I expect a frisson of excitement through the crowd, but it doesn't happen. The lecture starts. I furiously start writing notes, Mandelson sounds so passionate. I look up. No one else is writing. Why? Comprehension dawns. The speech; I have a copy of it in my hands.

I indulge in some people watching. I begin with Mandelson who has obviously been picking up on the latest catwalk trends. He wore a single breasted charcoal grey suit, (the BIG colour for Autumn), with power shoulders (these too are back), a red tie, and an off-white shirt with neat collars. His trousers were wide legged (ten points), but had a turn-up (minus five points). Shoes were well polished black brogues, and hair was well done. I decided he looked like a cross between George Hamilton and Griff Rhys Jones. In all, top marks.

As for the rest of the room they were a sorry lot. Men in crumpled suits stare into space. One man even falls asleep. The women look good though; lots of power bobs and pretty dresses.

Meanwhile, Mandelson is talking about the underclass. He wants the Government to create higher standards in schools and colleges, and a Welfare to Work programme for the long term unemployed. The sleepy man wakes up.

After the lecture Mandelson makes to leave. He is surrounded by the front row (this happens at fashion shows too). I shuffle up shyly.

"Can I ask you a fun question?"

"Yes," he replies.

"Where did you get that suit from, it's very nice?"

"What's that got to do with social reform?" he smirks.

"Nothing," I say. "I just wondered." He turns to an aide and asks: "I got it somewhere boring didn't I, somewhere near Blackfriars?" I ask to see the label, I'm not expecting Gucci, but possibly Savile Row. "I'm not going to undress for you," he says.

With that I walked out into the sunshine thinking: it's probably from Next.

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