Michael Brown's notebook: Judges gather to select Sycophant of the Year

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The Independent Online
THE OLD Testament Prophets, the irreverent, irascible and fiercely independent group of Labour MPs led by Bob Marshall-Andrews, Austin Mitchell and Dr Ian Gibson, held their "Golden Pager Award" ceremonies at a packed reception in Bournemouth last night. The award goes to the Labour MP or minister who has shown the most persistent and slavish support, by word or deed, to the Blairite project.

Dr Gibson said, with no hint of sarcasm, that the nomination system "has turned up eminent names who are due to take their place in the pantheon of British political history". Hot tips for the top prize, otherwise known as "Creep Of The Year", include the backbencher Ben Bradshaw and John Hutton, a junior minister. Bob Blizzard, however, may come through the middle thanks to his stomach-churning sycophancy at Commons Question Time. The winner will be contacted, appropriately, by means of the Millbank pager system.

THE TRIBUNE rally at this week's conference has its usual line-up including Tony Benn, Ken Livingstone and the TGWU general secretary, Bill Morris. Eyebrows have been raised over the presence of tshe cabinet minister Margaret Beckett and Tony Booth, the father-in-law of the Prime Minister, in the Old Labour platform line-up. Fund-raising at the rally will be boosted by the auction of a Harrods hamper, donated by a Stephen Pound, a Labour back-bencher. Mr Pound, an ardent supporter of Fulham FC, was given the hamper especially for the occasion by the person he regularly sits next to at the club's ground: a certain Mohamed Al Fayed.

RICHARD BRANSON'S Virgin stand in the exhibition area is in the doghouse at the Labour Conference for the second year running. Last year Virgin incurred the wrath of the conference because of delays to trains ferrying delegates to Blackpool. This year a huge Virgin train-driver's simulator is available for delegates to watch a video of the view from the cab window. After yesterday's revelations about the suspension of a Virgin train driver, for allegedly reading a paper while driving a train at 60mph, delegates were pointedly demanding newspapers and other reading material before entering the simulator.

THE LABOUR Party may be paying lip-service to its working-class roots as it celebrates during its centenary conference. But most of the celebrations will be taking place well away from the traditional fish and chip restaurants, so beloved of Labour delegates from yesteryear.

Keir Hardie and his mob would turn in their graves if they could see this year's conference directory listing of Michelin Guide Restaurants. The directory particularly recommends delegates to consider Oscar's at the Royal Bath Hotel, (pounds 20 plus). "Exceedingly elegant, boasts two AA rosettes for its impeccable cuisine. Serious wines. Dress well and expect to be pampered." It's all a very long way from mushy peas and cloth caps.

LABOUR ORGANISERS are considering issuing a special invitation to the gathering at Bournemouth for Mid- Sussex Conservatives (MP, Nicholas Soames) who have posted the following resolution to next week's Tory conference at Blackpool: "This Conference congratulates the Labour Government in its adoption of so many Conservative policies."

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