There was very little: “The circus is coming to town. Hurrah! Hurrah!” from the locals to prelude the Conservative Party Conference in Blackpool last week. Some of the hoteliers may have been happy for the days that they let their rooms to the party faithful coming along to witness the show, but apart from that most people I have spoken to were far from happy with all the disruption this event imposed on the town.
The massive security operation that swung into action in an effort to ensure there were no unpleasant surprises for our guests during their four-day stay has received scathing criticism from many traders – those whose businesses were adversely affected by the countless police “No Parking” bollards that lined street after street.
Following so closely on the heels of the Liberal Democrat’s Conference which was held at the same venue, the Winter Gardens, but that with no disruption to the town, some have questioned why the Conservatives warranted the enormous protection afforded them, especially as they are not the government of the day. By many they were seen as “a people apart” – and that can’t be good for a party that is desperately trying to convince the electorate that they are of them and for them.
Politicians have the impression that they are the prime targets for terrorists and deserving of such prolific security, but history tells us a different story. More often than not it is the general public that suffers at the hands of the terrorists – and they have no similar security afforded them. The public are a soft target, easy, and as such can be “taken out” by any formidable terrorists almost at their leisure. Nevertheless the police presence for this conference was on a monolithic scale and did much in itself to promote a sense of uneasiness – which was perhaps another reason why so many people avoided parts of the town centre.
To be fair to all the police men and women drafted in, certainly those that I encountered (and who mostly didn’t want to be there), they were a friendly lot with a good attitude this year, firmly but fairly doing a job to the best of their abilities – although you did get the feeling they were just part and parcel of the show and in no way an entirely infallible or impenetrable force. When one considers the cost, in so many ways, of such a presence it has to be questioned: with no guarantees, is such an exercise really worth it?
In the past these political conferences have been beneficial to the resorts hosting them. But, with all the extra costs, the disruption and the loss of business they cause these days, are they still so? With all the parties now appearing uncertain, and un-committing, about where they will be holding their future events, or even if they will be of a similar nature – with some people calling for smaller topical weekend mini-breaks in places like Manchester and Cardiff instead of the large annual gatherings at the resorts, and others proposing a series of television studio type of events where the public can “press the red button” and get involved – is it perhaps time for a re-think?
Maybe the days of the large conference gatherings are numbered. Maybe money invested in any large conference centres for the future would be wasted as times change and modern technology removes the need for them. Maybe the time has come for the resorts to move on and to drop these disrupting political conferences – before they drop them. It’s food for thought!
But what of this Tory rally where Michael Howard said his goodbyes, and the party faithful wearily surveyed the stalls laid out by David Cameron, David Davis, Ken Clarke, Liam Fox and Malcolm Rifkind, as once more they prepared themselves to appoint a new leader – this one their fifth in eight years? Was it a success? Will they find their salvation with one of those five contenders? Will that person lead them into government at the next election? I have to say: I think the answer is no, no, and no.
The only one I see with the X factor is Ken Clarke, but his age and all that water under the bridge is against him. Many won’t realise the economy we have enjoyed these last years under Labour is still pretty much all down to him. They will only see him as one of the old brigade and, although he is playing it down, as a portly old Tory Europhile running on water across the Channel with open arms, cigarette in one hand and a large brandy in the other, to embrace Europe. Besides, to take a party into government at (as he probably will be by the time of the next general election) nigh on seventy years of age would, by many, be considered too daunting a task.
Liam Fox has age in his favour and is not lacking in experience, but as one who went down with the ship in 1997 he too carries all the baggage of the government the people decisively threw out. The party may be enamoured, but I doubt the public will be.
David Cameron, I think, lacks the experience. As one mostly in the background of the last Conservative government to his favour he may not be associated with it so much, but is he any match for Blair or Brown? I think not. You need a mongoose to catch a snake – and this David is no mongoose.
Malcolm Rifkind at 59 is younger than Ken Clarke yet still comes with all that experience, but as one of only four ministers to serve throughout the complete Prime Ministerial terms of both Margaret Thatcher and John Major, much of it front stage, I can’t see him being any attraction at all to an electorate that seems determined that this party must shed its past before it can again become elected.
David Davis was in with a chance, the public seem to love him, but has the press condemnation of his speech killed him off? Slogans do work, and “Lacklustre Davis” does almost roll off the tongue, doesn’t it? And it wasn’t only the way he delivered his speech that has upset his followers, some of whom are now deserting him – many were unhappy with what he actually said, and the Tory Telegraph has crucified him for it.
The only intelligent guiding light I saw came from the failed leader William Hague who won the admiration of the whole floor with his vituperative attack on the government – especially targeting Gordon Brown. It was a calculated and well delivered speech, and one with Churchillian elements to it; the kind that has been known to move nations. Unlike any of the leadership contenders, Hague alone enjoyed a standing ovation both before and after he spoke. It might yet just be that before the Tories see power again they will have to eat humble pie and plead: “Come back, William – all is forgiven,” – for on that stage stood a mongoose of bulldog proportions and I found myself asking: Where the hell was that attribute hiding between 1997 and 2001 when it was needed; when he was their leader?
Moving on: I’m appalled that advertisements in bus shelters for a new video game called “Gladiator: Sword of Vengeance” will be allowed to seep ‘blood’ onto our pavements. Apart from there already being places where a bit of extra blood on a pavement might not be noticed, what kind of message is this sending out to our children? An acceptance? An advertisement is an advertisement, but when you physically bring the content of it into a child’s world it may not be without its dangers. The streets are not the place where blood should be seen – keep it in the comics, films and games if you must, but don’t entice anyone’s senses with the feel, taste, and the dripping of the “real” thing.
And finally: I see that one of our more popular magazines has revealed that Jordan and Peter Andre didn’t consummate their marriage on their wedding night – instead they shared their bed with the bride’s mother and brother and ate crisp sandwiches. However, we’re told that it was consummated within twenty-four hours.
What? Does anybody really need to know this? For Pete’s sake, they already have a son, Junior! Does anybody really care when they have a bonk? Are they different to everybody else? Do they do it any differently? Was the world really waiting, baited breath, to hear the news of when they actually performed?
Unfortunately, it’s a sad reflection on modern times that a few people actually may have been, and it’s utterly ridiculous. This the kind of stuff that old spinsters hiding behind net curtains were once accused of – nosiness and idle gossip – and something for which they were despised. Now it’s news? It’s a nonsense! Whatever are we going to be treated to next in order to sell a few more copies? How long before some magazine adopts the ritual of showing everybody the stained sheets? Or, God forbid, gives us full colour photographs of the whole act?
I blame Big Brother, and sometimes I fear for our planet.
See you all next week…
“The Bitch!” 8/10/05.