This week-end finds me packing my bags in order to catch an early train on Monday morning from Andover which, after a change at Basingstoke, will take me to Blackpool on Sir Richard Branson’s Cross-Country service. At £49.70 return, Sir Richard is a lot dearer than Mr Ryan, who could fly me to Blackpool for £5,– but to access that bargain means getting up even earlier and driving to Stansted. And paying three days carparking.
As reading material on the train, I will take the collective speeches of the contenders for my Party’s leadership, which have been winging their way into my inbox over the past few weeks. I look forward to learning of their plans to put first the Party and then the world to rights; and then watching them take part in what the commentators call a Beauty Parade at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool. The clapometers will be hard at work, gauging the reaction of the audience to the various contributors.
Blackpool itself gets sadder and sadder each time I go; it has lost its role of confident, bustling tourist destination for the North without ever finding a new one. The People’s Party appear to have abandoned it as a conference destination; salvation is rumoured to be on its way as it aims to become the gambling capital of the North.
I hope my hotel arrangements will be trouble-free. I arrived at the Imperial Hotel in Blackpool one year to find that the Party had booked me and Lady Young into a double room. Sadly, Lady Young was not my wife but Baroness Young, Leader of the House of Lords. When I arrived in the double-bedded suite with my luggage, she promptly but courteously evicted me. I don’t expect to find any members of the Upper House at the modest hotel I am staying in in Ginns Road.
This year, I will be addressing some fringe meetings, one of which is advocating a predominantly elected House of Lords and, on a lighter note, I shall be taking the powerful North West Hants delegation out to dinner at a popular but affordable Italian restaurant.
But the talk at this year’s conference will be about the leadership – our seventh contest in the last 15 years, with no contest at all in the previous 15. Practice will hopefully make perfect and I offer some free advice to those who seek my support. Say nothing offensive about any of the candidates – one of them will win and our opponents will then quote back at us any discourtesies uttered during the campaign; and, second, support whichever one wins.
Two years ago, I went to Blackpool and shortly afterwards the then Leader was replaced. It looks as if the same will happen this time – but hopefully in happier circumstances.