The taxi driver's analysis

A glimpse of the pied piper, a Chinese driver who thinks he knows the PM's secret, and much more...


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As a wet-behind-the-ears journalist, two months into my first job and on my first trip to a party conference, the prospect of filing for four publications – having never been to Bournemouth before – without a guide or map is a tad daunting.

I realised the level of my naivety at half-past five on Friday afternoon. It was only then my trip was finalised and I had a quick search on the net only to find every hotel bed on the South Coast was already booked up.

When I phoned guest houses and B&Bs I felt like Christian Bale in American Psycho trying to order a table at the most coveted restaurant in Manhattan. You could hear each receptionist holding back the guffaws as I asked if they had a room to spare for the following week.

At £550 for a press ticket, it was a tall order convincing my editor it was essential I attend the main conference, so I satisfied myself with attending the smaller fringe events in hotel function rooms and tearooms.

Researching what events were on was an arduous task. Unlike the Conservatives’ website – which had a 107-page pdf fringe listings guide a full week before the conference – Labour refused to put a listings guide on their site. Paid-up delegates would only receive a guide when they turned up.

Quite how you’re supposed to plan your conference before you turn up, not even knowing what days specific events are on, I don’t know. Undoubtedly, many event sponsors, who have forked out plenty of money to put on events, but received no publicity from the organisers, would be pretty aggrieved. The £550 for a ticket must go towards a lot of bubbly.

My first event is the first Tory fringe event at a Labour party conference. Shadow Works and Pensions Secretary Chris Grayling whipped up a room of disgruntled pensioners to a fury and then led them – like an inversed Pied Piper of Hamlyn – to march through the town and to the main conference building. They then stripped off on Bournemouth beach in protest over collapsed pension funds, while bemused policemen and seagulls looked on.

I later got a cab to my hotel in (not-so-nearby) Poole and the Chinese driver gave me his views of the new PM, despite admitting knowing little about Brown. “The current prime minister,” he insisted, “held a gun to the former one after they had an argument and told him to get out. That’s what happens in China all the time.”

I suggested this may not have been the case, but was assured it “probably had been like that”. Perhaps Martin Bright has missed a scoop.

Owen Walker is a journalist for a number of titles within Financial Times Business, primarily focussing on pensions. He recently graduated from Cardiff University’s newspaper journalism post-graduate course and is cursed by a passion for Crystal Palace FC.