ITS BROODING presence has towered over the British political landscape for years, its very name a byword for the black arts of spin and control. Yesterday however, the scenes inside the once- immaculate war room in the Labour Party's Millbank Tower headquarters were decidedly off-message. The nerve centre from which two landslide general election victories were directed was strewn with hired crates and sacks.
Labour is on the move this weekend. The party is swapping its glass and steel riverside home just a short walk from Tate Britain for a more sedate townhouse in an elegant Westminster street.
Several crates stacked in a corner were labelled "high value donations" although one official was heard to quip: "They're not stuffed full of dosh." Another pile of boxes contained the regular predictions of the man dubbed "Mystic Greg" - Greg Cook, the party's polling expert.
Labour leaders hope the move will help the party shed the damaging image of "control freakery" associated with Millbank. But old tendencies were still evident yesterday inside the infamous tower block. One nervous official tried to stop us taking a picture of a workman unscrewing a plaque marked "John Smith House", the name given to the previous headquarters at Walworth Road after the death of the Labour leader in 1994. "You cannot take any photographs without a press officer being with you," he declared.
The new office at 16 Old Queen Street, with a view over St James's Park, was also in chaos yesterday as BT engineers installed telephone lines and the reception area still resembled a building site.
But the new HQ should be open for business next Wednesday. Technically, Labour is homeless until then. "I am carrying little chunks of the operation around in my briefcase," said David Triesman, party general secretary.
Some 75 staff based at Millbank have accepted a move to a new office in North Shields, Tyneside. But others were reluctant to leave London and about 110 officials will move to Old Queen Street.
Mr Triesman is delighted that, for the …