Tuesday 28 September 2004
Old habits die hard
Despite all its promises to mend its ways, Labour still can't let go of its control-freak instincts, with the management of conference proceedings reaching new heights. Spotting a team from Sky television filming near the hall, a Millbank flunkey intervened to get them thrown out of the building. Their offence? Wearing Blair and Brown masks for a light-hearted report. Hours before, the plug had been pulled on the live broadcast of a question-and-answer session between Tony Blair and local party members in Brighton because someone had the temerity to suggest he should quit over Iraq. The previous question, over the pension rights of a lesbian rabbi, had been deemed suitable for broadcast. Meanwhile, delegates were summoned by an airport-style Tannoy yesterday to attend Gordon Brown's annual address.
Gordon Brown calling for cheering delegates to sit down after his keynote speech to the conference so that business could carry on. He begged for calm when they showed no sign of stopping his five-minute ovation.
Wearing a forced smile, Tony Blair clapped lamely while listening to Brown's speech, although he patted him on the back somewhat limply at the end.
Duo of the day
Billy Bragg, the founder of Red Wedge, delivered a tirade against the iniquities of the "capitalist system" at a late-night gig for delegates at the five-star Grand Hotel. He was accompanied on keyboards by Jim Godfrey, a special adviser to Patricia Hewitt, the Trade Secretary, and friend of big business.
Quote of the day
"150 years is too long for promises to be redeemed and a bond of trust to be honoured" - Gordon Brown, not on the Granita leadership deal, but cutting African death rates.
The New Statesman party, hosted by Geoffrey Robinson, an ally of Gordon Brown, was stuffed with the Chancellor's acolytes. Only the great man himself was missing; he was in his hotel room looking after baby John. A friend remarked: "I suppose he's put the idea of a work-life balance into practice."
You could have cut the atmosphere with a knife when Alastair Campbell and Charlie Whelan, Gordon Brown's belligerent former spin doctor, bumped into each other for the first time in five years. The encounter ended with the former power behind Blair's throne telling his old adversary he would be less welcome than the Daily Mail at his show, "An Audience with Alastair Campbell". But can he afford to turn awaypunters? Tickets for last night's Brighton show were being sold two-for-one.
Old enemies (part 2)
The Countryside Alliance is braving the wrath of Labour faithful with a stand calling for a U-turn on hunting. It has become enemy number one for delegates. Cherie Blair passed by on her yearly trawl of stands, but refused a gift of a cuddly toy fox. Just as well - they have been banned from the hall on the basis they could be "provocative".
Joke of the day
National Executive Committee member Shahid Malik described himself as one of "Thatcher's children" during a debate on industry. Sir Jeremy Beecham, who was chairing proceedings, quipped: "I'm glad we have one of Thatcher's children here who is not on bail."
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