The second day at conference, and the transport minister is proving hard to trace. Still, our correspondent saw Seb Coe, Sunand Prasad and Hazel Blears in action, and discovered a new Olympic sport - fish translocation
Monday night’s Olympics fringe event was well-attended – even Alistair Campbell popped in to see Seb Coe, David Higgins and Tessa Jowell run through the plans for 2012.
A buzzy, yoof-oriented video showed how the ODA’s 'milestones' are coming along, though the progressive techno soundtrack was undermined by the bureacratic captions. 'Fish translocation undertaken,' read one, accompanied by a scene of two anglers clearing a weed-clogged stream.
“London 2012 brand vision unveiled,” read another, which is a kinder way of saying “PR disaster unfolded as buzzy, yoof-oriented logo bombed horribly”. The delegate-heavy audience gave a delighted response, a million miles away from what Tessa Jowell labelled the “daily whacks” of the media.
“We live in an age of cynicism,” she crisply intoned. “There is an enormous amount of cynicism dividing our media and our politics.” I was surrounded by nods and murmurs of agreement. I quietly put away my notebook.
Tuesday was mainly taken up with hunting Ruth Kelly. The new transport minister has so far been the most elusive cabinet grandee at conference. At three fringe meetings, Kelly has been replaced by junior transport minister Rosie Winterton, who is able to reel off Labourspeak with such bright alacrity she seems like a preprogrammed robot – a Stepford Minister if you will. Kelly’s not a huge amount better, but at least she might be able to say something about Crossrail – no-one else can, it seems.
Employment rights was the thorny subject of debate in the main hall on Tuesday afternoon, and Ucatt general secretary Alan Ritchie treated delegates to a tub-thumping barrage of rhetoric in the grand old trade union style. “As you may be able to tell from my accent,” he growled, “I’m Scottish.” The delegates, who must by now be mightily familiar with the Caledonian brogue, laughed politely.
The unions are still going gangbusters for gangmasters legislation being extended to construction, but Business secretary John Hutton seems still to be on the fence; there’s more on the matter in this Friday’s issue.
When the day’s events finished, I rushed over to the RIBA reception, where President Sunand Prasad was rubbing shoulders with Communities Secretary Hazel Blears, former construction minister Nick Raynsford, Urban Splash founder Tom Bloxham and others.
Blears gave a warm speech to guests on the importance of high quality good design on public sector projects. “There will be challenges in the terms of the new homes we’re going to build,” she shrilled, “and we don’t want to repeat the design mistakes made in the 1950s and 60s.”
Prasad beamed on munificently from the corner of the room. One got the feeling he was rather in his element. Delegates will have a further chance to see him in action at tomorrow’s Climate Question Time, where he will appear alongside Yvette Cooper. As for me, I’ll be continuing to track down the Transport Minister. Wish me luck....