The Labour Party in Blackpool: Eyebrows raised as fun goes out of the door: On the Front: Blackpool

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The Independent Online
TIME to start worrying about Fun. To lose one Secretary of State for it is unlucky, but to lose his shadow only three days later looks serious.

Bryan Gould's move to spend more time with his 'Euro- sceptics' dropped a lot of jaws in the Baronial Hall (lots of heritage there, greasy yellow stucco, Disneyland fantasy mouldings) at Blackpool's Winter Gardens. Who chooses the Shadow Cabinet, we wondered, the Leader of the Opposition, or various low- circulation left-wing periodicals?

John Smith had obviously not given Mr Gould any fun at all in the Shadow Cabinet - more thumb-screwing than toe-sucking - but Gould was, fairly obviously, the author of his own misfortunes: well, he was the author of the articles in the left-wing periodicals.

And nothing became Mr Gould in the heritage job so much as his leaving of it - in fact, nothing became him in it at all, since he singularly has not dallied with actresses, plane tickets, Mercedes cars or football strips. But he did resign on matters touching on national heritage - British nationhood, the sovereign pound, stuff like that. Must Gould now join that other great Kiwi politician, Bonar Law, in obscurity?

He will make a good bad boy, anyway: there's a workable martyr in that dry, twisted face and it's a mouth made for rebel yells, not for one of John Smith's old socks and a strip of industrial insulating tape. He was bitter as he signed off: 'I have no illusion as to how rapidly disowned and marginalised I will be by a decision to speak my mind.' But you sensed he knows there could be some fun. So do others. From the back row Tony Benn gave a welcoming - if not entirely savoury - grin: 'Bryan Gould,' it said: 'Come on down]'

SUNDAY morning at North Shore Methodist Church: John Smith is scrubbed shiny and on his best behaviour. All those years under father's eye at Ardrishaig Kirk taught him a thing or two. For the North Shore parishioners this was a very new Labour leader: no Neil Kinnock wandering in sulky and scuff-toed for the eve-of-conference service, knowing he was in for yet another hour of someone getting at him about things he had - pragmatically - decided to stop believing in years ago.

But Smith was good as gold, hands clasped neatly in his lap as he watched the Rev Stephen Heath (a new chap in Nellist beard) go through his routine. 'I've been telling myself all week - Although, Sir, you are the Leader of the Opposition you are also one of God's created beings. . . I've told meself, I've listened to meself, but it don't make a blind bit of difference. . .'

That's Blackpool timing. Sadly, when Mr Smith took the platform, his scriptwriter (St Matthew) let him down. 'You are the salt of the earth,' he read, 'but if the salt loses its saltiness how can it be made salty again?' Eh? This means little in Blackpool, which is pretty salty even when the south-westerly isn't blowing. But when we sang ('Dear God of town and city/We offer praise to you/From houses, flats and bedsitters/We offer praise anew') he excelled. When Smith goes for the high notes his eyebrows soar upwards . . . affectingly. See if he does it when he sings 'The Red Flag'.

(Photograph omitted)