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: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Polish minister Rafal Trazaskowski (second from right)  

Poland is open to dialogue but EU benefits restrictions are illegal and unfair

Rafal Trzaskowski
The report will embarrass the Home Secretary, Theresa May  

Surprise, surprise: tens of thousands of illegal immigrants have 'dropped off' the Home Office’s radar

Nigel Farage
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas