Friday, 19 June 2009

Brighton days and nights

Back in The Smoke from sunny Brighton, it's time to relax a little after a frenetic few days.

Goodness knows why some people imagine that conferences are a perk of the job – most of our team were knackered by 9pm. And indeed, I was in bed at the ridiculously early time of 10pm every night I was there.

Still, there are obvious compensations – when the weather's on song, you can amble along the seafront at lunchtime or even, as I managed on Tuesday, first thing in the morning. Then there's hardly a soul around, the light is beautiful, the sky a clear blue, and the only sounds are the water, lanyards tap tap tapping against boat masts and the shrieking of the gulls, which glide above, seemingly for the sheer pleasure of it.

The food was okay: the biggest surprise was a bar meal of scampi and chips in the hotel itself, where the chips were actually hand cut. I can't remember the last time I had chips that weren't out of the freezer. And scampi, I admit, is an old food love.

When I was a child, occasionally the family would go to Blackpool for the day. And if we ate out, I thought that nothing in the world was finer, or more exotic, than scampi and chips. So in a fit of nostalgia, I still indulge now and again.

Indeed, I had the same dish at the Regency fish restaurant on the prom the next night. Everything in Brighton seems to be called 'Regency'. There's the restaurant, the Regency Amusement Arcade, the Regency pub and the Regency goodness knows what else.

But back to food. The very non-Regency Alfresco sits in the old municipal ice cream parlour on the seafront. And directly opposite the hotel we were in. On Monday night – my last evening in town – we went for a meal.

Situ is great – it'd be hard to imagine much better: we had a table right at one end and, with windows all around, it offered a lovely view of the English Channel and the seafront itself.

So to the food. Large portion syndrome is at play at Alfresco.

I had a starter of crisp Soignon goat’s cheese on fine green beans with a pepperonata sauce (an Italian stew of onions and peppers). Very tasty it was indeed – and the cheese was huge.

I followed up with linguine with crab, chilli and parsley, finished with Sardinian bottarga. The bottarga is mullet roe. I didn't notice any of that – but then again, I didn't notice much chilli either. Plenty of linguine, though. Okay, it wasn't bad, but I'm bound to say that a very similar dish that I do myself occasionally is tastier. There's some chilli in it, for starters, which acts as a lovely counterbalance to the sweet crab meat. That and some lemon juice stop it being bland.

A lot of the pasta went uneaten. And after a suitable gap, I had a little vanilla ice cream to finish. We had a bottle of Verdicchio, which was pretty good, but nothing I'd particularly look for again.

Why do restaurants serve such vast amounts of food? I hate leaving food, but on such occasions, I've no choice. The cheese in the starter was very nice, but it could have been smaller. And there really was far too much pasta with the main course.

Anyhow, that was the food.

I got through three days of listening to conference debates and speeches, dashing back to the 'media centre' (a large, windowless room in a smart hotel nearby) and writing it all up. Then repeat.

And Tuesday offered a real West Wing sort of moment, reporting the general secretary's speech to conference. A bravura performance from Dave Prentis – he's not a rabble-rousing, tub-thumping speaker. But this had some very clever nuances and got the delegates on side quickly. Always useful at the start of conference.

It was a wrench to leave Brighton after that – I wanted to stay around and chew the fat with others. It felt like leaving a party early.

I feel sorry for people like Dave: a loyal Labour Party member for years, he's watched as the party that is supposed to represent working people has simply turned its back and betrayed their aspirations. I can't claim to be disillusioned myself – quite simply because I never had any illusions about Blair et al. I'll admit that I did, for the briefest of moments, entertain a slight hope that when Gordon Brown became prime minister, there might be some positive change, but such optimism didn't last long.

Tuesday's speech was much more shackles off: not just the careful warnings of the last few years.

But one is left with the next question: if traditional Labourites no longer feel that they can vote for Labour – a party that has simply carried on and extended the Thatcherite economic agenda, including privatisation – who can they vote for?

Arthur Scargill's vanity party? Bob Crow and his coalition of anti-EU fellow believers? Respect, that front for the Socialist Workers' Party and George Galloway's posing, which changes its policies depending on how many Muslim voters it thinks it can win?

Who knows. Perhaps the Labour Party can be rescued. But Parliamentary politics is a one-sided mess at present and no obvious and decent alternative is on the horizon, leaving disillusioned people to vote for fascists.

Interesting times we live in.


  1. .Respect, that front for the Socialist Workers' Party and George Galloway's posing, which changes its policies depending on how many Muslim voters it thinks it can win?
    Wow you are so out of touch there was a split two years ago respect showed the SWP the door there were dodgy cheques that the SWP tried to cover up from Galloway and Respect
    also the Respectparty haveshown creditability by making inroadswith the white working class voter who used to vote for labour.
    I am certain that the SWP were the ones that created the thought that Respect was a muslim only party working and living in Tower Hamlets I can see Respect giving new labour a run for the money,

  2. Respect made some quite dramatic changes in policy in the run-up to the last general election – coming out with anti-choice statements, for instance. Plus saying that LGBT rights were no longer important – it was far more important making anti-Israeli comments (any connection with the attacks on the former MP in the area, one wonders – since she is part Jewish?). Then there was sudden spate of picketing a lap-dancing club.

    One wonders if they've changed these polices.