Labour's princess goes talkabout

Share
Related Topics
TWENTY minutes late, a comet- trail of cameras behind her, a diminutive figure in bright sugar pink, easily picked out in crowds, swept into the room. Her pearl ear-rings shone, her upswept hair immaculately, if a little conservatively, groomed.

The resemblance between Princess Anne and Margaret Beckett is striking. This similarity goes beyond looks. Like the Princess Royal, Mrs Beckett grows ever more wary of the media. Her low voice embarked on an apology for her late arrival to the fringe meeting at Brighton, waiting to hear her on 'Campaigning to win on the economy'. The fault lay, of course, with the press, who had been interviewing her on her loyalty to John Smith and her own job security. 'You can get it right in the national press or TV, but you can't win there,' said Mrs Beckett, moving on to the subject of the elections won at the doorstep and patting the grassroots workers on their heads for all their hard work. The press were failing to report Labour's policies, but they could get the message across instead.

'Redouble your efforts to make contact with your local communities,' she advised. Mrs Beckett spoke rapidly, without notes, slim fingers playing with her expensive-looking gold watch, until she finished with one last exhortation: 'You are our secret weapon, go out and win for us]'

As they clapped, she cast her dark eyes down and smiled. The next fringe meeting, on local party fundraising, awaited. Mrs Beckett rose to go, and her retinue of media men rose with her. 'Charge them to get out]' cried a wit. She stalked down the corridor of the Grand Hotel in her strappy high heels. A portrait of Edward VII looked down with a jovial twinkle.

Managing local fundraising, as well as campaigning, is one of Mrs Beckett's jobs. At the door of the meeting a 'consultation document', with an introduction by her, gave ideas on how to raise money. It had a cosy, genteel tone. The first idea was jumble sales, with a 20p entrance fee. 'Beware the jumble sale thief]' it advised. The third idea out of four outlined was 'A dinner at a posh French restaurant . . . costing pounds 50 each . . . Obviously not every member can afford dinner at pounds 50 a go, and those who could by saving would not be able to do it every week . . . .'

Mrs Beckett rose to speak again, once more encouraging her workers at the grassroots. Those collecting funds, she advised, should remember 'you have to be an emissary from the Labour Party'. At the back, the feelings of a thirtysomething woman from Birmingham exploded into speech. 'She's a disaster, isn't she, this woman?' she said to her nearest neighbour.

Mrs Beckett went on in her didactic way. '. . . the biggest problem the Labour Party has is that far too many people in this country see - utterly unjustifiably - the Conservative Party as people like them . . . .' At this, Ms Thirtysomething could stand no more and exited, shaking her head. What with the departure of those on the left, who feel she has betrayed them by dropping her old Bennite principles, and those on the right, who feel that she has been insufficiently loyal to John Smith, Mrs Beckett's fan club has shrunk.

'She's Princess Anne without the humanity,' one delegate told me. 'My wife admires women with more punch, like Clare Short.'

'She's not doing anything for women. She should be out there raising the banner,' said Carol Morrey, a Norwich councillor and visitor to the Labour Party conference, as she sat outside the overheated, airless hall.

'I'd like to see her playing a more positive role,' said Sheila Carroll, a union delegate. 'At the moment Margaret is being left in the shadows . . . I don't think it's fair to put the burden of inspiration on to Margaret.' So which women in the Labour Party carry that burden? 'For admiration and inspiration, you're looking at Jo Richardson, Clare Short, Pauline Green.'

Certainly the MPs for Barking, Birmingham Ladywood and the MEP for London North have more straightforward, less gratingly ladylike styles. Pauline Green had just started her first conference speech with a gritty rebuke: she had had to get elected and become leader of the European Parliamentary Labour Party before she was allowed near the microphone. It may be that Mrs Beckett, for all her undoubted cleverness, looks and sounds a little too much like the Tory ladies she wants won over on the doorstep to appeal to prospective Labour-voting women.

On the party conference's final night, Labour Briefing, a newspaper of the 'independent, unrepentant left', held a fringe meeting in Brighton's Richmond pub called 'What kind of paper does the left need?' This was in some ways a mournful affair: Tribune was in trouble, the New Statesmen was about to be bought by an ex-Tory MP. The editor of Red Pepper, Denise Searle, revealed that her parents, life- long Labour voters, had become so fed up with the Daily Mirror they were buying the Daily Mail.

But for all this private grief the meeting held a spontaneity and humour sadly lacking these days at the main conference. Here, at least, people were saying what they really thought, uncompromised by ambition. 'Vote early and vote often]' cried its chair, Sue Lukes, inviting nominations for Class Traitor of the Month. A woman spoke, regretting the collapse of the feminist press, Spare Rib. As she talked, Ms Lukes suddenly disappeared from view, the plastic legs of her chair having given way in sympathy.

The politically-incorrect gathering laughed heartily. It was the third plastic chair to wilt in solidarity that night. Mike Marqusee, political correspondent of Briefing, said his biggest regret of the week was that there had not been enough barracking from the floor when the Shadow Cabinet was speaking. 'You've really got to hate the Establishment, including the Labour establishment,' he said cheerily, waving a booklet in the air. 'We have here the complete Class Traitors of the Month]'

And from page seven shone out the royal smile of Mrs Beckett.

(Photograph omitted)

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: Hang on – that’s not how it’s supposed to be written

Guy Keleny
Rafael Nadal is down and out, beaten by Dustin Brown at Wimbledon – but an era is not thereby ended  

Sad as it is, Rafael Nadal's decline does not mark the end of tennis's golden era

Tom Peck
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test