For the third year running I am The Sun’s ‘man on the ground’ for the political party conference season. That means gathering the kind of video material you don’t see on TV.
Saturday 26th September
Once again I had a mission getting my conference pass. It seems even the government’s ‘conference services’ department are being throttled by red tape. I applied for my pass in April. It was then approved in August. They claim to have sent it to me on 28th August and here I stand on September 26th without a pass. Apparently now there’s confusion over my picture. They’ve printed my pass using the image I supplied three years ago…when I had a beard.
Following a four hour wait my pass is issued and as I storm out of the side entrance into the conference zone who should I run into, Gordon and Sarah Brown arriving at the Grand Hotel. And “bugger” I don’t have my video camera on me.
Sunday 27th September – Winning a fourth term
Conducted a voxpop with local people (not conference delegates) on Brighton beach and the Palace Pier. Issues discussed include Afghanistan, knife crime and the economy.
I spoke to a wide-ranging cross-section of people including the unemployed, students, an army recruit, a homeless alcoholic and a woman who’s best friend had just died of a heroin overdose.
Monday 28th September – Ambitious Britain
The Sun’s fringe debate “Don’t you know there’s a bloody war on,” broadcast live as a webcast, took place at the Holiday Inn. Those taking part include the Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth and General Sir Mike Jackson. The event wasn’t as lively as last year’s debate into ‘Broken Britain.’
Tuesday 29th September – Responsible Britain
The day after Business Secretary Peter Mandelson takes to the stage, Royal Mail workers stage a protest opposite the Brighton Centre over pay and conditions:
“Mandy, Mandy, Mandy, Out, Out, Out” is the general message.
Other chants include: “We’re workers,united, we’ll never be defeated.”
Then in the afternoon, the Prime Minister takes to the stage for the traditional ‘Tuesday’ leader’s speech. As
people leave the auditorium I ask members of the party faithful what they thought of Gordon Brown’s speech? Most are elated. However, Jeremy Paxman declined to comment.
Wednesday 30th September – Fair Britain
“Labour’s Lost It” reads the front page of The Sun. Do I really want to go back into the venue? The first politician I see is Lord Peter Mandelson who claims his party hasn’t been outspun by The Sun and that:
“If the proprietors of the Sun choose to turn The Sun into some sort of Tory party fanzine, they’ll be the losers.”
The Business secretary attempts to brush The Sun’s decision off as irrelevant:
“In the 1990s we were still living in a newspaper age. We’re now living in an internet age – an age of emails, of bloggers, of twittering – it’s a different world”
It’s a shame he doesn’t realise that The Sun has one of the most popular newspaper websites in the country.
Next up, I manage to get a few words from Jack Straw.
My first question: “Have Labour lost it?” The Home Secretary doesn’t think so:
“One newspaper doesn’t effect the outcome of a general election.”
When I cut in that it was rather handy in 1997, Mr Straw replies:
“I’m not complaining about the fact that we had the support of The Sun in the past. As I say, I’m glad we have. I regret the decision now. I think the timing was pretty gratuitous, but there we are, I don’t complain, we just punch through.”
On the question of timing I interview The Sun’s political editor George Pascoe-Watson:
“We’ve decided after 12 long years that Labour have lost the faith of the country and therefore they’ve lost the faith of The Sun. We waited for the Prime Minister to deliver his speech to see what he had in his locker and unfortunately it was underwhelming to say the least.”
David Miliband doesn’t think Labour have lost it either:
“The Sun must be very rattled indeed by the Prime Minister’s speech to have felt they had to splash this out. Labour’s got a plan, a plan for Britain above all, and we look forward to taking it to the Tories.”
When I suggest that back in 1997 it must have been handy having the support of The Sun, the Foreign Secretary replies:
“It was Labour wot won it in ’97, and it’ll be Labour wot wins it it 2009/10″
As for people in Brighton – on the whole there was mixed opinion over The Sun backing blue.
Thursday 1st October – Bold Britain
The venue is dead. Not much of a grand finale, yet the same thing happens every year. Why don’t the Labour party follow the Conservative’s example and close with the leader’s speech. It guarantees finishing on a buzz and ensures an additional day’s media exposure.