New Labour New Technology: Blair's grand design shows they're serious

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The Independent Online
At about 3.30pm yesterday, a pepper spray broke in one of the zillion X-ray security machines that dot the Winter Gardens, and released a debilitating gas into the heart of the press area (suspiciously the cloud was at its worst over the Telegraph and FT, but had largely dissipated by the time it got to The Guardian).

This event marked the passage between the pleasant rambling of the Lib Dems a week ago, and New Labour's very serious pursuit of power; for in Brighton there were no pepper sprays, and no X-ray machines. There, bags were cursorily checked by affable members of the local morris dancing team. Here, a division of the North Korean army has been pressed into service by Group 4 or Parcelforce, or whoever, and are determined never to surrender.

In Brighton, you will recall, they had built a little classical temple for Paddy to emerge from. But dominating the Winter Gardens is a Sixties Brezhnevite Memorial to the Heroic Pioneers of Socialist Space Flight, or Solidarity with the Third World.

In the middle is a granite-coloured plinth, sloping upwards from left to right. But where you would expect to find a copper sputnik or a concrete- cast struggling peasant, there is a microphone and lectern, from which speakers address the toiling masses below.

Even more dramatic, however, is a three-storey high backdrop, standing to either side of the Socialist Speeches Statue, and coloured like a red dawn on a healthy morning. The Moscow 1966 theme is carefully maintained by festooning the hall with red banners, declaring the paradise to come.

The effect of all this unexpected architectural reference to what used to be called "the achievements of real Socialism" has been to disorient some delegates. During yesterday's health debate one woman told us that "hospitals are being sold ... and supermarkets are being built in their place". This is a terrifying prospect. Am I going to whip down to the Royal Free for a consultation on some malfunctioning organ, only to find myself in the canned fruit section of Waitrose? Or was there a teeny bit of exaggeration going on?

To recover from this appalling tale of the Tory present, I decided to take a glimpse at the Labour future, by attending a meeting entitled "New Life for Young People", introduced by a smart young woman who said "Hi there". The main speaker was Mo Mowlam, who told us that Young Labour is about Energy, Excitement, Confidence and CD-Roms.

And indeed there was the New Labour CD-Rom, featuring a digitised Mowlam, who was not nearly as attractive as the analogue version. Still, the ability to conjure up parallel Mowlams is a clear victory for British ingenuity. Both Mowlams were agreed on one point: what a pity it was that two-and- a-half million teenagers hadn't gone to the polls in 1992. It was terrible! Something had to be done.

The candidate for Sevenoaks, a tall 14-year-old dressed in clothes so absurdly conventional that, when I was a student, they would have marked him out as a leading light in the Monday Club, or the League of Empire Loyalists, wanted to know whether there wasn't a case for compulsory voting as in Australia.

Mo, to her credit, was not keen. She may have noticed that Neighbours hardly suggests a revolutionary level of political consciousness amongst Antipodean youth. And, of course, she's right. For many young people voting is like cleaning their bedrooms. And with the polls closing at 10pm quite a few simply don't get up in time. They'll learn.