Shy Labour snubs media

THE Labour Party played very coy at the weekend, forgetting to invite the media to its East of England conference in Clacton. When it was last in the town four years' ago, delegates and MPs fell over themselves to be photographed, with then Heath Secretary Frank Dobson releasing balloons over the seafront and turning up at Harwich Hospital for a "media opportunity.

By Graham Dines

THE Labour Party played very coy at the weekend, forgetting to invite the media to its East of England conference in Clacton. When it was last in the town four years' ago, delegates and MPs fell over themselves to be photographed, with then Heath Secretary Frank Dobson releasing balloons over the seafront and turning up at Harwich Hospital for a "media opportunity."

How times change. Although Harwich MP Ivan Henderson was bubbling with excitement in advance at the prospect of Clacton basking in the regional limelight for three days, with all the money Labour delegates would spend to boost the town's economy, sadly no invitation was forthcoming this year.

Is the state of our governing party in such chaos that it wanted to slink into Clacton, meet behind closed doors, and go home again without anybody noticing?


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I'm assured that's not the case. It was an oversight that invites were not sent out and no slight was intended against me in particular or the media in general.

But the party missed a real opportunity to get the Government's case across, as the chief speaker during the conference was Dr John Reid, the Chairman of the Labour Party and one of Tony Blair's chief henchmen at this difficult time for the Prime Minister.

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The lack of a media presence did, of course, stop journalists asking questions about how much support military action against Iraq action enjoys among East of England socialists – and the answer is: not much.

Despite the presence in Clacton of Dr Reid, New Labour's East of England warriors adopted a Transport and General Workers' Union sponsored motion opposing war.

The upcoming battering of Baghdad has taken the gloss of New Labour and Tony Blair among tens of thousands of Labour stalwarts and voters.

Tony Blair just can't understand why his party can't see what he can – that the Iraqi dictator is evil and corrupt, is a threat to world peace who should be removed before he can develop and flog nasty weapons to be exploded in London and other British cities.

Whether Mr Blair rides out the storm in his own party will be down to the attitude of men and women all over the county similar to those who went to Clacton at the weekend. They will have to decide whether Labour's deep-seated internationalism and hatred of war and President Bush is more than their love of the Prime Minister.

My only prediction is this: if a majority of Labour's 411 MPs vote against war and the Prime Minister wins in the Commons only thanks to the Conservatives, he could not survive in the long term and may as well send for Pickford's.

The morale of British troops – and don't forget many of those serving in the Gulf are stationed in Colchester and Suffolk – will be badly battered if the Commons is split this week.

But that was the risk the Prime Minister took when he decided to ignore his party and throw his weight behind George W. Bush.

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