Conference diary: it's Us and Them in the Winter Gardens

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The Independent Online
Some are more equal than others in the New Labour Party - official. Orwell's melancholy vision of institutionalised inequality is coming true as conference delegates gather in Blackpool.

The party leader, his shadow ministers and senior party officials have been issued with special passes with two gold strips running from top to bottom. Gold Card holders can go to the front of any queue they encounter this week, while lesser mortals - union barons, delegates, journalists - have to wait in line for the heavy security checks.

There is irritation among the brothers. Perhaps Tony Blair should be spared the tedium of queuing. But does his teenage gofer, Tim Allen, need a gold pass? "Animal Farm is a reality, right here," growled one old union delegate yesterday. Recalling what happened to the cart horse in Orwell's novel, perhaps he should keep quiet.

The tabloids are already asking: "Where's Arthur?" Now he leads the breakaway Socialist Labour Party, miners leader Arthur Scargill cannot give the annual rant that has been a feature of conference for nearly 20 years.

He may not be a delegate, but nobody believes he will not be in town, preaching hellfire socialism and casting out the devil of New Labour.

FULL marks for cheek to the Seafood Restaurant, the Blackpool eatery where employment spokesman Stephen Byers spilled the beans over fish and frascati to lobby correspondents about ending the union link with Labour.

The restaurant has taken out an advertisement on page 2 of Tribune extolling its good food and wine, plus its "discreet conversation". This is a fine piece of putting your tongue in your cheek while eating. Byers' indiscretion, led to calls for his sacking, though it did wonders for the Seafood's image.

The restaurant figures in Labour's official conference guide, but only gets two red rosettes out of a possible four.

IN THE same guide, former deputy leader Roy Hattersley offers a personal view about conference gourmandising: "Members of the Shadow Cabinet and the National Executive will occupy most of the best seats in the expensive restaurants simply because somebody else will be paying the bill.

"Journalists will have already booked tables and invited their guests. The theory that justifies the expense accounts is that secrets are spilt across the tablecloth and better stories produced on the next day. In practice the politicians will reveal very little that the writers do not know already." Ah well, better luck with the copy next year, Roy.

Paul Routledge