Thomas Creevey - His Diary: Whispers on the promenade

Paul Routledge
Saturday 04 October 1997 23:02

Forget the debates, just feel the width of the gossip. New Labour proved to be no different from the old version at Brighton.

Robin Cook let it be known he was not amused at being snapped on the seafront with his new love, Gaynor Regan, during the party conference. Yet he had been only too happy to be seen in public with his inamorata in the middle of Brown's, a popular watering-hole for the hordes of media in town. Cook's detective toyed moodily with his food in a discreet corner.

Even stranger, the Daily Mail decided not to publish the pictures of Cook's seaside promenade, on the grounds that they might contravene the new privacy code of conduct for newspapers - which, as you know, is designed to stamp out vermin like Creevey.

These are remarkable times. The Daily Mail brought you the anti-Labour Zinoviev Letter (fake) and the British Leyland Slush Fund (less effective fake), but now it is truckling to the Blairist establishment. Sir David English, boss of bosses, and his editorial satraps were even seen to join the standing ovation for the Great Leader.

While we are on the pictures front, Chancellor Gordon Brown was happy (if that's not an information overload) to be photographed on the seafront with his girlfriend, Sarah Macaulay. But she was rather less than entranced at being described by Jon Sopel on the live BBC coverage of the conference as Brown's "partner". Over warm white wine at the European Union party, she said she prefers to be described as his "friend".

What my scouts have not been able to discover is whether Big Gordie and Sarah were living "en Hague" - that is, in a suite with connecting doors, as the Tory leader is with statuesque Ffion Jenkins in Blackpool this week.

THE social front at Brighton was particularly busy, but with variable results. Helen Brinton, the new girl for Peterborough ("I Ring the Local Paper Three Times a Day" Tendency) pronounced herself bored at the BBC party thrown by director-general John "Dalek" Birt. At least she got a drink. The hapless Irish Ambassador, Ted Barrington, rushed to the bar towards the end of his own bash for Labour's Guinness Fuseliers to get himself the first snort of the night - and was promptly refused service. Shut, sir, snickered the waiter. Better luck in Blackpool, Ted. Creevey's tip: stand by the door so you can ambush the waiters bearing trays of the black stuff.

Teetotallers should beware the privatised utilities. A delegate who went to the Anglian Water function asked for a glass of water, only to be told it "wasn't available". Not much faith in their products there, then.

THOSE awful fellows, the Labour whips, sent ministers out on safari with a snapper round the conference exhibition stands, so that the assorted lobby groups, privatised utilities and so on could take away a permanent record of this great event. Imagine the chagrin, then, of Welsh minister Peter Hain, being dragged like a reluctant mule round the bazaar that passes for conference these days. He was offered for a photo-opportunity at the Low Pay Unit stand. Did the stallholders want their pictures taken with the minister, asked an excitable, shaven-headed party official. "Er ... no" they replied.

BACK at Westminster, the Tories were preparing for their conference in the best way they know how - by dismissing great swathes of their staff. Among the 46 to get the sack from Conservative Central Office is messenger Sam Anderson, a ubiquitous, chatty Ulsterman who performed great services for the party. No, he didn't lose elections. He simply kept a previous party chairman, Sir Peter Brooke, well supplied with his favourite Big Macs (plus double portion of French fries) while the toffee-nosed research workers dined off smoked salmon. It would be unpardonable to lose Sam's skills. Creevey fully expects to see him behind one of the palace bars 'ere long.

IF you can spare a fiver, put it on Douglas Alexander to win the Labour nomination for Paisley South, the hitherto-safe seat vacated upon the sad occasion of Gordon McMaster's suicide. Wee Duggie, runner-up in the by-election at Perth that brought in Australian-educated SNP toughie Roseanna Cunningham, is the favoured candidate of the leadership.

Like the Chancellor, he is a son of the manse. Indeed, he could be seen only a few weeks ago flitting in and out of the Treasury helping to write the Budget speech. Alexander's bid has been substantially bolstered by Tony Blair's insistence that his Number 10 Policy Unit trade union specialist, Pat McFadden, cannot be spared from his duties to go for the seat. Maybe this tells us more about the Great Leader's impending row with the unions than it does about who is right for Paisley. Watch out for some nationalist fireworks.

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