Sunday, September 17, 2006


Living the Fast Life in Brighton

Our Liberal Democrat Conference stay in Brighton has started well; already this morning I’ve had a smashing breakfast and an interview, alongside Gareth Epps. This was with Shaun Ley for The World This Weekend, so tune in to Radio 4 at One O’Clock to see if any of it’s broadcast. On top of that, Richard has already declared this trip to be our “Best holiday ever!” He’s fallen in love again, though (if you’re wondering why I’m not sobbing into the keyboard) it’s with our hotel’s super-fast wi-fi Internet connection, which makes our home dial-up seem powered by a crank-handle.

Back home, Richard has a PC that’s probably about half a dozen years old; mine’s three years old, but as of last week Millennium has a shiny new laptop, pictured in yesterday’s Diary. For the first time, then, we have a computer at Conference, and Richard cannot be more delighted that our hotel (the swankiest at which we’ve so far stayed) has free wi-fi Internet. On Friday he was trying to work out how our excessively slow dial-up connection would ever download a service pack for the new machine estimated to take between 209 and 255 minutes to come through; yesterday, he just sat here goggling as the whole thing sped through in about 10 minutes as we watched the final of How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?

Yes, I know. We’re not normally reality TV junkies, but we saw an early edition of How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? and then had it reinforced when visiting each of our parents last month and our Mums had it on. So we’ve watched the odd one since, usually sitting there scoffing like Statler and Waldorf, though of course neither of us can hold a tune in a bucket. We decided early on that only two of them had any star quality; one was voted out some time ago, apparently for her middle-European accent (because an Austrian nun would, of course, sound much more like Julie Andrews). Fortunately, the other one we reckoned had real stage presence won last night. Her name’s Connie, and she looks a little like one of the cast of Deep Space Nine, a show Richard liked because it told a complex and political story rather than being as shallow, worthy and dull as the other Star Trek series of the time – apparently most Star Trek fans dislike it for exactly those reasons. But anyway, Connie is feisty, powerful and a little bit raunchy; as I said, star quality, but I goggle at the thought of her playing a nun… Plus, of course, the show had the lovely John Barrowman, who shares all those qualities, though rather more raunchy than ‘a little’.

Still, it wasn’t all nuns last night. We arrived in Brighton, found our hotel, registered, said hello to the charming Rob Fenwick and I introduced Richard to one of Millennium’s slightly bemused competitors on the shortlist for tonight’s Blog of the Year Awards. Millennium is rather worried about this; he’s very nervous of speaking in public (so, uncannily, is Richard. I’m the only gobby one in our flat). Then Richard spent several hours in rapture over the computer connection, able at last to shoot Cybermen on the BBC website and to see the lovely Councillor Tall wink at the camera in near-real time in his latest vidcast.

Our hotel has a huge atrium, with a great wall of rooms stacked to one side of it like an indoor cliff or a giant honeycomb. We’re in one of them, which is good news and bad news; it means we have natural light despite an ‘indoor’ view, but it also means that one day this week we’re bound to forget not to do what we would at home and wake up, throw the curtains open and flash half the guests over breakfast. We managed to avoid that this morning, and the huge cooked breakfast was particularly fine.

Before breakfast, however, I had that early interview with Shaun Ley on the hotel sofa. It was all very relaxed, and of course I’ve known Gareth for years; there must be something about our flat, as a few months ago Newsnight picked out Millennium and me as the two Lib Dem blogs to plug, while I didn’t have the heart to tell The World At One they’d selected me and our ex-lodger. We were asked, as is everyone, about the tax debate later in the week, and I wonder which of our answers are going to make it on air. Gareth introduced himself as a member of the Federal Policy Committee, so (having not thought to prepare an introduction) I just reacted to that thought by describing myself as “a former Vice-Chair of the Policy Committee, but now I’m just a blogger.” Richard afterwards told me I’d cleverly both pulled rank and claimed greater independence, which sounds so clever I might even remember to do it on purpose some day. Actually, the “just a blogger” was immediately contradicted by Shaun Ley; the BBC are reading Liberal Democrat Voice avidly after just a week, picking up both Gareth and me from comments and articles on tax there, and think blogs are brilliant – they no longer have to just ring round random people in the hope one will have something interesting to say (is this the end for Lord Greaves? muses Richard). So if you want to start your own Lib Dem blog and also aspire to get the odd ‘mainstream’ interview, now sounds like a good time.

I did have to smile, though, at the end of the interview. Mr Ley seemed happy, but his colleague – producer? Editor? Recording technician? All three? – wanted me to say something more. “You said some really interesting things about pensions on the phone yesterday,” she told me. “You didn’t mention them today.” “You asked me about them yesterday,” I pointed out. “And this morning I was answering the questions I was asked, rather than coming in with a script.” Is it really unusual for politicians to have to be prompted in this way, I wonder?

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