Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Article excerpt


Such is the strange rhythm of politics that this turns out to be the most successful Conservative conference for many years. George Osborne, who only a week ago people kept telling me was a disaster, put in a commanding performance. His promise to lift the threshold of inheritance tax to £1 million did not provoke contempt for reverting to a 'core vote' strategy. Some say this is because, though not many pay the tax now, millions expect to one day. I suspect, too, that people actually like the idea that inheritance tax threatens them because the threat is a sort of status symbol. To say that you worry about it implies, without stating, that you have expectations, a concept beloved of the middle classes. My astute colleague George Jones also makes the point that Gordon Brown's recent public appearance with Lady Thatcher may well have removed a big psychological reason for voting Labour.

If he calls an election soon, he cannot try to frighten people with the Tory bogeywoman now that he has been seen grinning with her.

With one bound, Mr Brown has set David Cameron free.

This is the last time, I hope, that I shall have to write from this dateline. Labour has cast off Blackpool, and the Conservatives say that this is their last conference here. I have always tried to resist the southern view that Blackpool sums up most of what is grisly in British culture, but I cannot honestly say that I expect ever to return. Now Roberts's Oyster Rooms say 'pizza' in neon lights at their counter that once offered dressed crab.

There is nothing to bring one back.

But Blackpool usually made the most exciting party conferences. The difficulty of getting there (you have to change trains from almost anywhere) meant that people came, stayed, plotted, argued and enjoyed themselves. In the days of easy security before the Brighton bomb of 1984, the public came and went freely. I was surprised, for example, to come across prostitutes in the bar of the Imperial Hotel, in innocent conversation with Robin Day. I also remember the extraordinary intensity of the hatred that Labour felt for us, the press, in the early 1980s. They put us in a pen and yelled abuse at our 'disgusting and vicious smear campaigns' (always the same phrase). Even more savage was the antiThatcher 'right to work' mob in 1981, which jostled us as I approached the Winter Gardens steering T.E. Utley, who was blind, on my arm. At Labour conferences, old trade unionists like Alex Kitson, sitting on the platform, would put down female speakers by calling them 'lassie' and 'pet' and telling them to draw their remarks to a close. Then there were the extraordinary speeches by Michael Foot as leader. Although Footie was said to be a great orator, these platform efforts were truly appalling. They were jerky, ill-prepared and rambling. Do I remember Mr Foot pulling a yellow cutting of a Times leader about India and the Bomb from his pocket and reading out large bits of it, for no apparent reason, or am I dreaming it? The vanity and sentimentality of the man!

In retrospect, one can see that the Blackpool conferences were exciting because they were still, until about 20 years ago, organised by people who did not think in terms of television. This meant that delegates crowded in in vast numbers, seeking experiences unavailable in their living rooms. …

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