They boo. Someone helpfully cries out "Judas". The booing is over. Now we can all enjoy the evening

As I remarked to one of my ten bodyguards as we made our way down to the south coast by armoured car, I was apprehensive about how Servants of the People would be received by a concussed party conference. Some weeks before, Matthew Taylor had asked me to co-host the IPPR's Oscars and Turkeys awards on Saturday night. The surreal venue is the most subterranean level of Brighton's Sea Life Centre.

Matthew and I stand on a small metal platform, separated from the audience by a pool of sharks. It might be an underground bunker from where Ernst Stavro Blofeld plots world domination. Matthew - in a handsome dinner-jacket - is clearly 007. In the eyes of much of the audience, I am inevitably cast as the evil Blofeld who has unleashed a deadly toxic agent on the government and, most unforgivably, I have done so at its moment of maximum vulnerability.

Afterwards, Michael Cashman tells me I have been brave. Kind, but not really true. They are going to have to boo; so best let the crowd purge it in one long blast. When I walk into the light, they boo. I stand there. They carry on booing. I stand some more. They boo some more. Helpfully, someone cries out: "Judas!" The booing is over. Now, we can all enjoy the evening.

It is an excellent event, full of laughter, not least when I present Gordon Brown - or rather one of the Chancellor's representatives on earth - with the Oscar for Best Government Achievement of the Year for the comprehensive spending review. Willy Sullivan, Gordon's excellent constituency secretary, asks me to grin with him and the Oscar for a memento photo. I suggest to Willy that he make sure the Chancellor is in the best of humours before he shows the snap to him.

Neil Kinnock is the richly deserving winner of Best Conference Performance for his Bournemouth 1985 denunciation of Militant and its fellow-travellers as inhabitants of la-la land. I watch Neil as he watches the video screen showing his younger self deliver that magnificently scorching scorn of the impossibilists. His cheeks tauten in echo of the tension of the moment. We rather forget how brave, in the context of its time, that speech was; and how necessary. We can mourn that we will never see that level of courage or drama from a conference platform this autumn. Making his acceptance speech, Neil underlines the magnitude of his character by offering a hilarious parodic version of himself as a European vice-commissioner scuttling around Brussels delivering directives. Neil contemplates the fish tank, and remarks that it is the first conference he has attended where the sharks are under the water.

As we have a glass of red afterwards, a nice bloke from the Greenwich constituency party, which has picked up a Turkey for the Millennium Dome, introduces himself as the voice that shouted "Judas!" No, of course I don't mind. Someone had to do it. He asks whether I'd mind signing the Turkey for a constituency raffle. Delighted.

"Is anyone still speaking to you?" asks Jeremy Paxman on Start the Week. I'd wondered myself. Would any member of the government dare be seen within a light-year of me?

Showing his characteristic bravery, Jack Straw is happy to chat as we walk down the seafront. On an expedition to the Brighton races for Radio 4's Westminster Hour, Chris Smith - the satirist - hails me as "the famous author". I collide with the Deputy Prime Minister in a concrete stairwell. "You're being a bloody nuisance," cries Presco. He gives me a look. Could it be a grin? Mo Mowlam has a natter in full view of the assembled media throng; Geoff Hoon pauses to talk in the heaving lobby of the Grand Hotel. Naturally, all these conversations are strictly confined to the state of the weather - or Northern Ireland.

I read in a Sunday paper that the Prime Minister is angered by what my book says about the night Diana died. Apparently, he's cross at being portrayed as a dummy who reads out words composed by his ventriloquist, Alastair Campbell. I'd be aggrieved, too. Here's the strange thing: the relevant chapter says the exact opposite. It slays the popular legend about that testing night so early in his premiership. It says that, though "the People's Princess" was Campbell's invention, the rest of the speech was written by Tony Blair himself as he paced around Myrobella sipping tea.

Far from spending the night rehearsing sentiments scripted for him by another, he did not finish fashioning his words until 20 minutes before he delivered them. He did not finally decide whether he would speak at all until, in a breakfast phone conversation with the Queen, she told him that none of the royals would be saying anything. So why - I ask myself - is someone at No 10 misleading the Prime Minister about a chapter that actually casts him in a flattering light?

It's been a rollercoaster, and I'm ready to get off. One minister has a little fun at my expense: "At least, Andrew, you've had a little taste of what it's like for us every day of every week." Fair comment. And I'm not sure that I'd have the stamina for the full meal.

Andrew Rawnsley is chief political commentator of the Observer. His book, Servants of The People: the inside story of new Labour is published by Hamish Hamilton (£17.99)

This article first appeared in the 02 October 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Nightmare on Downing Street