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Last Updated: Monday, 27 September, 2004, 15:21 GMT 16:21 UK
Stripping down for conference
Sketch
By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent in Brighton

Nye Bevan may have pleaded with his party not to send him naked into the conference chamber.

The Brighton Centre
Security is tight at conference venue
But, 45 years later and thanks to the war on terror, I was within an ace of being sent into the Labour conference centre without my trousers or what's left of my dignity.

Security staff at the Brighton centre are so determined that nothing even remotely dodgy should get through their duck's-bottom ring of steel they have adopted some extraordinary measures.

So, despite arriving at the security post without my usual bag full of computer kit, documents, tape recorder, radio, spare computer, Curly Wurly and so on, I was still defeated by the men and women from Group 4.

Kit off

I had already placed my absolute essentials - mobile phone, natty bluetooth keyboard for same, room key, notebook, pen, loose change, wallet and the inevitable cough sweets - into the provided transparent bag to be sent through the X ray machine.

Hunting protests outside Parliament earlier this year
More hunting protests are expected on Tuesday
Feeling more than usually smug as a result of my forward planning, I gaily headed towards the security gate only to be swiftly grabbed by one of the officers and told to remove my belt.

Suddenly, I felt guilty. Is this what the first day in prison must be like?

My lips formed the immortal phrase: "But I'm innocent."

"That's what they all say in here 37224 - now get your kit off."

I snapped out of it only to be faced with the full horror of what was about to happen in real life, or what passes for it at conference.

I was holding up my now-beltless trousers with one hand when I spotted the woman - woman no less - with the body scanner. The scanner that requires you to lift both arms above your head - at the same time.

Artificial aids

Was that sniggering I could hear from the queue of hacks now lining up behind me, or was it nervous laughter. I know my colleagues - it was sniggering.

Now, I never knew I was a contortionist, but I have discovered a new talent - the ability, through judicious hip-action and stomach inflating, to keep an otherwise unsupported pair of strides roughly in place without any artificial aids.

Thank you Group 4. When my services as a hack are no longer required, that other circus will open its arms to me.

My moment of triumph was complete when I turned to discover a leering colleague being told he had to either dump the bottle of fizzy drink he had brought with him - presumably in case it contained something healthy - or drink it down in one.

Yes, security at this conference is that bad - or good.

Tight security

The 1985 conferences saw the first major security clampdown in the wake of the previous year's IRA attack on the Grand Hotel here.

And gradually over the years it has become tighter and tighter.

Even the Liberal Democrats have OAPs in yellow vests checking your handbags nowadays.

Just about everyone here has a story to tell about the tight security.

There are fiendish new contraptions which squirt something on you to detect explosives.

There are supermarket-style barcode readers which instantly check your pass with a computer database - which will presumably be destroyed once conference is over !

And there are any number of attack dogs, heavily armed cops, concrete tank-busting roadblocks, helicopters and patrol boats.

Who knows, there may actually be the nuclear submarine once said to have been positioned off the pier at a Blackpool conference.

If I was an international terrorist - or even Otis Ferry - I wouldn't bother.




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