Thursday, 1 October 2009

Conference concussion syndrome

Herald sketch of yesterday's Labour conference in Brighton.

It was the morning after the night before but it felt like the night before the morning after.

It gets that way in the closed world of party conferences. If you fell and hit your head and a paramedic asked you a few questions you’d have problems. Your name is on your conference pass, but if they asked you what day it was - “uh, Tuesday I think” - or where you live - “uh, in a room, can’t remember the number, past the pub with the red door.”

Concussion, that would be the medical diagnosis, but really you’ve just been at conference too long. Between days of speeches, fringes and receptions and no reference point to the outside world you get punchdrunk even if you take that “lips that touch liquor...” pledge

The Prime Minister looked as if he was feeling a little like that yesterday. When The Sun rose over Brighton it was a very dark day for Gordon Brown.

“Labour’s Lost It” was the headline - “Brown’s lost it” was the none to subtle subtext. All that feel good, endorphin boosting, post speech atmosphere had been punctured by precision-timed sabotage, courtesy of of friends of Andy Coulson, the former News International editor now handling presentation for David Cameron.

Starting a round of morning interviews Mr Brown displayed that muddled, why aren’t you asking me about policy/the recession/how I save the world look when Adam Boulton wanted to talk about how News International had dumped on him.

His reaction was to grump his way through the interview. Asked to guarantee he would not step down before the election, he said tersely: “I have got a job to do and that's the job I'm going to do.” He said his personality was not the issue and when Boulton persisted, he took it personally: “It does obsess you,” he said to Boulton. The rest of the world too, I’m afraid Mr Brown.

Afterwards Mr Brown was heard to complain to Boulton: “Look, Adam, we are going through a recession — I don't think you asked about that at all.”

Then the ultimate indignity for an angry television interviewee, he stood up to walk away still connected to his microphone. This is particularly embarrassing when there was really no need to go anywhere. The BBC interviewer, Sian Williams, was lined up to come to him.

At the end of that interview, Mr Brown stood up while the Williams was still speaking to the nation and in his haste to leave stepped between her and the camera. Oh dear.

So we knew Mr Brown was furious but there was much debate during the day on what Britain’s darkest spin doctor turned best-loved vaudeville star Peter Mandelson made of the Sun’s decision to abandon the project after 12 years.

Rumour was that he’d used the c-word but at lunchtime yesterday Lord Mandelson, tongue firmly in cheek, clarified his reaction to reporters.

“I said to them last night, when Rebekah told me, that they’d been a bunch of chumps,” said a smiling Mandy. He must have been concussed.

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