Magazine article The Spectator

Brighton Breezy

Magazine article The Spectator

Brighton Breezy

Article excerpt

The last time the Labour party joined up with Brighton racecourse for a conference fixture the sun shone and everybody seemed to back a winner. But when your political luck turns, everything seems to go the same way. This time the heavens opened and 14-1 outsiders ruled the day. Some Labour bigwigs were wincing, too, when they found that Mohammed al Fayed, owner among other things of Punch, was the day's main media sponsor. It was intriguing that the party was prepared to share a card with him but had made sure that organisations such as the Countryside Alliance and the Union of Country Workers, who would like to have done so, were not sponsoring a race too.

Anyway, the turnout was still good. Perhaps the delegates were only too glad to get away, as I was, from the most bureaucratic and all-enveloping conference security blanket I have encountered. Having left the Grand Hotel all those years ago 20 minutes before the IRA blew it up, I am all for tight control of who gets in, but this time they won't even let you get out without a ten-minute walk.

New Labour likes to see itself as the people's party. But sadly there are few Labour parliamentarians with any enthusiasm for or understanding of what is very much the people's sport as well as the sport of kings. Culture Secretary Chris Smith and Leader of the Commons Margaret Beckett tried bravely, amid frozen smiles, to look as though they were enjoying themselves, but clearly for them we might as well have been racing rabbits, and the racecourse commentary would have been just as intelligible in Serbo-- Croat. The canny Alan Meale got the forecast in the first but Labour coincidence backers weren't in luck. At the conference where the candid and near-canonised Mo Mowlam was making her final appearance, Sporty Mo failed to score.

Back at Brighton - the racecourse, that is - after a break I was not surprised to find it much improved with property tycoon Stan Clarke as chairman. Smart green paintwork, a resiting of the winner's enclosure, cleaner eateries and bars, and smiling staff placed at strategic intervals have all helped. Perhaps they ought to ask him to take over party-conference organisation. Trainers, too, reckon the course much improved and the Brighton chairman reminded me that decades back he used to be a trainer too. He once sent out Parkinson Minor to win three races in ten days at Uttoxeter, Wolverhampton and Fontwell at odds of 12-l, 8-1 and 4-1. As Stan recounted his difficulty in getting one of the stuffier officials he inherited on another course to wear a welcome badge, recalling the grimace as he pushed the pin through his tweed jacket, I was reminded of the Thatcher minister who was reshuffled just after the Cabinet had subscribed to a diamond brooch to mark her tenth anniversary. …

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