Wilkes's Diary

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The Independent Online
Wilkes has been spending the past week as an "observer" at the Labour Party conference in Brighton, which concludes today with a rabble- rousing speech by John Prescott, and a choir. The New Labour leadership has been delighted by the success of its strategy to disprove the Philip Gould memorandum (suggesting the party was unfit to govern) by making this one of the dullest conferences since the bomb at the Grand Hotel. The leadership thought its cup would run over when it read that Arthur Scargill was contemplating leaving the party to form an Old Socialist Labour Party. However, the general joy was cut short by Dennis Skinner. The Beast of Bolsover went across to Tony Blair on the platform yesterday morning to break the news of the favour he'd done for the Labour leader: "I've stopped Arthur Scargill leaving the party..."

For once, the beatific smile was wiped off Mr Blair's face.

Wilkes has been sharing oysters with Nicholas Budgen, the Tory MP for Wolverhampton South West, and Jerry Hayes, the Tory MP for Harlow, both also in Brighton as Labour conference observers. Perhaps it was the oysters, but Wilkes has been feeling like he had fallen into Alice Through the Looking Glass: all that was Right is Left and vice versa. Thus Mr Hayes has been telling his friends in the media that he has been attending the conference "as the token leftie". And Roy Hattersley was transformed from right-wing traditionalist into the darling of the Labour rank and file.

But Wilkes is happy to report that some things never change. Roy celebrated his personal triumph at the conference in fine style, dining in full view of the dispossessed in the window of Wheeler's Fish Restaurant in the Lanes.

Wilkes was invited as a guest of honour to the Brighton Races with Tony and Cherie Blair, John Prescott and Mr Prescott's delightful wife, Pauline, who knows a thing or two about racing, being a regular at Doncaster, another course run by the Labour local council. Wilkes decided to put his shirt on Navel Gazing. Mr Prescott advised against it. "We don't go in for navel gazing any more," he said. Needless to say, Navel Gazing romped home, and Wilkes collected pounds 50 in winnings.

Kevin Keegan's meeting with Tony Blair on Monday had the Labour leader's aides beside themselves with glee. The Newcastle United manager, whose boss is John Hall, a friend of John Major, came as close as he dares to endorsing the Labour leader by describing Mr Blair as "a breath of fresh air". Then he played a blinder by agreeing to a photo-opportunity for Kev and Tone to play head-tennis with a football.

Just as the Blair Babes were saying "The boy done brilliant", Kev scored a bit of an own goal by asking for legislation to limit the price of football stadium tickets for fans travelling to away matches, to no more than they would be charged at home. This ingenious Keegan Bill would mean Geordies would pay pounds 15 to see their team at Tottenham instead of pounds 25. But it was too interventionist for the Blair camp. "Sounds like old Labour to me," said one senior Blair adviser. I don't think Mr Keegan is going to be consulted on policy in the future. He's too left-wing.

As Tony Blair looks younger, leaner and fitter, Gordon Brown, the Shadow Chancellor, is looking beefier than ever. Perhaps Wilkes has discovered the reason. The Shadow Chancellor has been so much in demand for dinner with the hacks, he has been doubling up. Startled hosts have been told that Gordon has to leave sharp at 8.30 .... because he has a second dinner. He is now known as "Two Dinners" by the media.

The passage of the Blair speech on Tuesday which won the biggest ovation was the well-crafted jibe at the Tories for wrapping themselves in the Union Jack while tearing to shreds the fabric of Britain. The author was Alastair Campbell, Mr Blair's press secretary and former political editor of Today. Diligent readers may have spotted it used once before, in one of his columns for that newspaper.

Wilkes hears that Mr Campbell and his young turks also drew up a list of jokes for the Blair speech, including the Cantona crack about kicking Tories in the teeth. Mr Prescott, the deputy leader, was invited to take his pick of some of the lines they could not fit in, but firmly informed the inner sanctum that he did not want any cast-off jokes for his closing speech today, thank you very much. Honest John is quite capable of thinking up his own.

Joy Johnson, the Labour leadership's press person in charge of rebutting false rumours had to rebut one about herself yesterday. Rumours even reached Conservative Central Office that she had threatened to resign after a tiff with Alastair Campbell about his gaffe in sending a fax to complain to the BBC about using OJ Simpson before the Blair speech on the TV news. All got up by the press, she said.

Wilkes will be joining the media caravan when it moves on to Blackpool this weekend for the Conservative Party conference. There, Conservative High Command will be pulling out all the stops to show that the party is united again. And the buzz around media bunker at Brighton is that the key social event of the week will be the return of Lord Archer's party. Yes, Jeffrey is back.

The resumption of the late-night supper party hosted by Lord Archer suggests that all is well again in the heart of the Major camp. But Wilkes can advise those seeking to gatecrash the VIP floor at the conference hotel that the best-selling author has what is known in the club business as a strict "door policy". Only Fleet Street's finest are admitted, and he is pretty choosy about the Conservatives he invites for Krug and shepherd's pie at midnight.

Brian Mawhinney, the party chairman, has decided to follow the example set by the spoilsport organisers of the Last Night of the Proms, at which John Major shared a box with the BBC's John Birt. The Conservative Party conference agenda carries the following warning: "Balloons - under no circumstances can balloons be taken into the conference hall." Wilkes has no intention of letting such dour, unpatriotic exhortations spoil his conference fun, you can be sure.

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