In a few days time, a group of politically motivated men and women will be heading from North West Hants up to Manchester for the Conservative Party Conference. I will be among them and will be staying there for five days. The last time I stayed in that great city was in 1993 when, as a Minister, I was backing its campaign to host the Olympics. My task, along with Bob Scott, was to persuade members of the International Olympic Committee that Manchester was the preferred destination for the games, despite the rain. They enjoyed much hospitality and then voted for Sydney.
I have kept the tie we made for that campaign which I propose to wear with pride. As Transport Secretary in 1996, I approved the building of a second runway for the airport. It was generously reported as the most significant construction project for Manchester since the opening of the Ship Canal in 1894. A number of people took a contrary view and headed for the trees in Arthurs Wood in order to obstruct the project. I also gave the go-ahead to the Metrolink extension to Salford Quays and Eccles for which subsequent administrations have taken the credit. Whether my hosts recollect my commitment to the city’s infrastructure remains to be seen, but they have kindly sent me, and all other attendees, a pass that gets me free travel on bus, train and tram.
Previous party conferences have had their moments of excitement. At one, the Blackpool Constabulary contacted my office to ask for my inside leg measurements. My office were accustomed to mischievous enquiries from the press, but not from the arm of the law. “Why” they enquired “was this personal information needed?”
It turned out that I had chained my bicycle to the railings near the Imperial Hotel, and the frame might have been filled with gelignite. To ensure this was not the case, the saddle had been removed and an endoscopy carried out. Incipient traces of rust were found but otherwise it got a clean bill of health. Discreet enquiries and interrogation of the CCTV cameras had disclosed that the owner of the bicycle was the then Member for Ealing Acton. The reason for the phone call was that the police wished to leave the bicycle as they had found it. They needed to know my inside leg measurement to ensure that the saddle was the appropriate height from the ground (which meant that a normal sized adult needed a step ladder to get on to it.)
On an earlier occasion, a British Embassy overseas was concerned that the Foreign Secretary might not get through a revolving door. They telephoned his private office and asked a question of similar intrusiveness. “What is the diameter of the Foreign Secretary?” I am afraid we don’t know his diameter.” said the Private Secretary. “But we can tell you his circumference.”