Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

POWER AND THE GLORY; Brighton's Landmark Hotel Has Seen It All, from the IRA Bomb to Tony Blair's Reaction to 9/11. Next Week's Conference Gatherers Will Find It Has Lost None of Its Grandeur; HOTEL REVIEW

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

POWER AND THE GLORY; Brighton's Landmark Hotel Has Seen It All, from the IRA Bomb to Tony Blair's Reaction to 9/11. Next Week's Conference Gatherers Will Find It Has Lost None of Its Grandeur; HOTEL REVIEW

Article excerpt

Byline: ANDREW NEATHER

THE GRAND HOTEL 97-99 King's Road, Brighton, BN1 2FW

I DON'T know where Gordon Brown will be staying at the Labour Party conference in Brighton next week - but if he's at the Grand, I hope for his sake that he has one of the high sea-view rooms. You would have to be very preoccupied with impending political disaster for the vastness of the sea before your balcony not to take your breath away.

He'll need it. For the Grand has long been a centre for scheming. It's right next to the Brighton Centre, where the conferences are held. It becomes either party headquarters or, if the leadership chooses the Metropole next door, filled with politicians, apparatchiks and lobbyists anyway.

Harold Wilson held a Cabinet meeting in the banqueting room in 1966. And it was in a wardrobe in Tony Blair's room at the Grand that New Labour ideologue Philip Gould hid in 1994 as shadow Cabinet members were told that the new leader intended to drop Clause IV, the party's socialist touchstone. Blair was here again as PM, working through lunch on September 11, 2001, on his speech for the TUC conference, when No 10 called to ask if he was watching the TV.

The Victoria bar downstairs, all dark wood and comfy chairs, is perfect for plotting or carousing. Here, a few years back, special adviser Jim Godfrey sat at the piano, leading a gaggle of ministers in a beery singalong. The end of smoke-filled rooms arguably began here too -- in the late Seventies, steel trade union leader and anti-smoker Bill Sirs plotted to make TUC and Labour conferences smoke-free. The result was the smoking ban of 2007.

Twenty-five years ago on 12 October, at 2.54am, a bomb planted by IRA man Patrick Magee exploded in what is now room 621. His aim was wipe out the Cabinet. He failed -- the bathroom of Mrs Thatcher's suite on the first floor was damaged but she, up late drafting her conference speech, was unscathed. Still, five people were killed and 34 injured: the bomb tore a hole 30 feet wide and three floors deep in the hotel's facade.

The Grand reopened in August 1986.

Just how brilliantly it was restored was especially clear to me: I stayed in room 521, below the one where the bomb detonated. …

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