Party Conferences: Glorious vision as he takes us supersonic

The Sketch
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The Independent Online
I FLEW Ashdown Airways yesterday for the long journey to inspect Utopia in the land of Liberal Democracy. Captain Ashdown piloted the flight himself. There was a two-hour delay before take off because a couple of hundred leery-eyed freedom-fighters, hung over from their end of conference cabaret the night before, insisted on debating law, order and legal affairs.

Some 1,500 Liberal Democrats boarded the flight and were all strapped in. Then the Captain started the engines for a long hazardous journey ahead. Previous owners of this airline, including David Steel, have been unsuccessful in their attempts to navigate the route.

This airline manufactures its own aircraft and insists that it will not buy from other companies. Indeed, it claims to be in the market to sell rivals some of its own components. The model we were flying yesterday, designed by the Captain, is a cross between an ageing jumbo and Concorde, though it has its roots in the Tiger Moth.

Within a couple of minutes we were airborne. Captain Ashdown loves flying this route and he provides virtually continuous commentary to his passengers, but warns them that the journey is particularly prone to turbulence. He raised his voice as he told them: "For decades we have circled the walls of Jericho, blowing trumpets of reform. Now, at last, the walls are coming down. If we keep our nerve."

Captain Ashdown did not like using the autopilot, as he likes to screw up his eyes and peer out into a middle distance, thus obtaining plenty of vision. He described in graphic detail the view from the cockpit and pointed out a liberal agenda for a liberal century. He seemed to get particularly excited about the vision of "the powerful citizen".

The speed increased and he hinted to us that part of the journey would be at supersonic speed - perhaps a flight of fancy - and referred to "the very threshold of an historic achievement".

Unfortunately, like most long flights there were some signs of boredom from the passengers. Many drifted off to sleep, especially when we flew over Kosovo.

They woke up, however, when Captain Ashdown warned them of turbulence in the Labour Party over winning fair votes.

The familiar plastic tray of Liberal Democrat fare was advertised on the Ashdown Airways menu as a two-course meal. The main course was, of course, fair votes. Lords reform was for dessert.

It is always good when the plane lands safely and the Captain's touchdown gave a sense of thrill which brought forward a good round of applause. Passengers couldn't wait to jump up out of their seats the moment he turned the engine off. Like all good pilots he stood by the door beaming, smiling, waving and glad-handing as the loyal passengers alighted on the future.

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