Thursday, June 26, 2008

Never the 'twain

I was reading the first edition of a new magazine which came in the post today, Total Politics, and read an article with Gordon Brown where the journalists explained how they had been bundled into a side room (described as a cupboard) for a few minutes to avoid running straight into the visiting Prime Minister of Canada on their way out of Number 10 Downing Street.

I was reminded of my days working for the Labour Party when I was Deputy Chief Steward at a LP annual conference in Blackpool in the late 1990s.

TB had invited two particular guests to talk with him and other senior LP politicians and to engage in the conference during the week – David Trimble and Gerry Adams.

They were both at our conference on the same day. I was in charge of stewarding Gerry Adams around conference and my colleague and mate Chris Southward was in charge of stewarding David Trimble. There was a sticky moment, as we were waiting for the Leader’s Speech, where Chris and I were “joined at the ear”. He was on his radio and I was on mine, ensuring that we did not meet in the building. He would say “entering corridor to the theatre, south side” and I would reply “exiting corridor to the north side” and we crept round the building doing our best to ensure that the two never met in the conference centre.

Neither was meant to be anywhere within camera shot as TB paid tribute to Mo Mowlam for her part in the Northern Ireland settlement. Neither should receive a greater share of the TV coverage than the other.

Incidentally, you will recall this moment yourself, because you were told by countless journalists over many years that TB disliked the standing ovation Mo got. I know this is rubbish, he clearly set it up for her. My many years of conference have shown me that nothing as important as this happens by chance during the leader’s speec.

But for me, as Deputy Steward, minding the cinema “overspill” where we were putting the extra thousand or so people we could not fit in the main hall, there was a further complicating factor.

Michael Portillo, the man we all still then loved to hate, was sitting downstairs in the darkened theatre as Gerry, who incidentally has the most overpowering charisma of anyone I have ever met, his minders and I were watching from the balcony. Portillo was filming the leader’s speech for a documentary he was making. He was no longer an MP by this time, having been defeated by Stephen Twigg.. But I feared a potential riot much more serious than anything the two opponents in Northern Ireland could do to each other in such a place.

I imagine Gerry and David were only too well aware of what was going on between the two of them, in terms of who was sitting where, they each had some rather serious looking body guards with them. Portillo on the other hand, was very much undefended, but thankfully, on the whole the dark kept him fairly anonymous. There were some Labour Party members sitting near him who spotted him and were frantically nudging each other, gob-smacked to see him there but fortunately most people never knew he was there.

One day I shall write my memoirs!

(And Susan will help me, because she was at the heart of so much of this)

1 comment:

scouseboy said...

Heard an interview about the inaugural edition of this magazine on snelly at Radio Merseyside this week.
Decided to look at the website, as new perspective political magazines are something I would be interested in.
Noted the editor is a card carrying member of the Tory party, whose quote was "We are not just another Tory rag!!!"
Sorry, tried to be objective, but I will be giving this particular magazine a miss!!!