Revealed: pounds 750 cost of of a day with Blair

The cost of a VIP trip to Labour's annual conference used to be pounds 350 a head. Barrie Clement, Labour Editor, finds that now the party is in power it can afford to charge pounds 400 more.
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Senior business people are paying pounds 750 a head for a Concorde class ticket to next week's Labour Party conference in Brighton.

Some 40 captains of industry have signed up for a privileged pass to the annual assembly which will offer them a unique opportunity to rub shoulders with politicians they might have regarded as unconscionable oiks a few months ago.

As part of the deal they will receive guaranteed seats for the leader's speech on Tuesday - whereas long-standing members of the "people's party" may have to take part in an unseemly scrummage or witness the event elsewhere on large screens.

There will be lunch before Tony Blair's speech, a cream tea after the address and a "gala" dinner later at the Metropole Hotel, Labour's headquarters for the week. The dinner, which will cost pounds 250 a head for those who baulk at the complete package, will begin with a chilled vegetable tian, followed by breast of chicken with asparagus in cream sauce and a selection of in-season vegetables. Pudding is a delice of raspberry bavarois served on a raspberry coulis finished off with a "chocolate scroll".

To complete the meal there will be coffee, petit fours and another speech by the leader. For the 600 to 700 guests there will also be copious quantities of well-chosen wine provided by an un-named company sponsor.

At other times during Tuesday there will be briefings and seminars on Labour policy. Wednesday will start with breakfast presided over by left- winger Margaret Beckett, President of the Board of Trade.

A senior Labour official said there had been "massive" but unquantified demand. The numbers had been kept to 40 to ensure the guests could be "adequately serviced".

A party official was unsure last night whether all 40 special guests were well-to-do business people. "I'm sure most of them must be. Let's face it, ordinary people wouldn't be able to afford pounds 750."

He said that the package required considerable effort on the part of Labour and were not over-priced. The cost included an observer's ticket for the whole week which was selling for pounds 300. It is understood, however, that accommodation was not included and neither was the cost of travel to Brighton.

The charge for a VIP ticket to the conference was substantially less when the party was in opposition. In previous years pounds 350 would secure meals with Gordon Brown, Robin Cook and other Shadow Cabinet ministers together with briefings with MPs and peers.

In past year's Labour made a profit of more than pounds 5,000 on the deal. This year the return should be considerably more. In previous years business people had to be enticed to the annual assembly. Now they seem to be falling over themselves.