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Thursday, September 30, 1999 Published at 16:53 GMT 17:53 UK


UK Politics

Time for Tubby bye bye



By Political Correspondent Nick Assinder

Conference99
There has been much talk about Labour's new centenary conference backdrop - the sun rising over a gently rolling hillside.

Delegates, many of whom have only just got over the ditching of the red flag 13 years ago, are suspicious that the new symbol will oust the red rose, which at least was the right colour.


[ image: Welcome to Tubbyland]
Welcome to Tubbyland
Labour insists this is not the case and the rose will be back. And they describe the new logo as "warm and friendly" and representing the dawning of a new age for the party.

But one old Labour MP spotted an striking resemblance between the new logo and another, more famous image.

"Hasn't anyone noticed it is almost exactly the same as the Teletubbies' set with the baby-faced sun rising over Tubbyland?" he asked.

And he is absolutely right, the resemblance is uncanny.

And that leads to the inevitable question - which minister is which Teletubby.

Presumably that makes Tony Blair the slightly bossy Tinky Winky, the nominal head of the clan. Gordon Brown must be the more thoughtful Dipsy, who likes long walks. And presumably Robin Cook is the ever-so-slightly flirtatious Laa-laa.


[ image: Labour's inspiration?]
Labour's inspiration?
But I'm afraid there is bad news for John Prescott, the transport minister who wants everybody to get out of their car.

He must be the baby of the group, Po, because he's the only one with a scooter.

Big egos

Politicians have a reputation for being full of their own self-importance but outgoing Defence Secretary George Robertson has displayed a breathtakingly-large ego.


[ image: George Robertson: mass following]
George Robertson: mass following
The minister is to become the head of Nato - sparking a by-election in his Hamilton South constituency.

Fearing an upsurge by the nationalists, Tony Blair broke with political tradition by making Mr Robertson a lord so he could call the by-election in the parliamentary recess and while the Scottish National Party was holding its annual conference.

As it happened the tactic backfired badly and the nationalists came within an ace of repeating their 1967 sensation and snatching Labour's fifth safest seat in the country from under its nose.

Any number of excuses were trotted out by Labour to play down the SNP's performance but Mr Robertson's takes the biscuit.

He recently declared that it wasn't until he saw the result that he realised how huge his personal vote was in the constituency.

Dirty jokes

Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam is, as everyone knows, hugely down to earth and popular with ordinary punters.

So it was good to see her out for a drink or two with her minders at the local pub just down the road from the Bournemouth conference centre.

As is her habit, she mixed easily with the other drinkers without any of the stiffness that usually afflicts politicians when they try to meet the people.

With Mo it was not a stunt, but because she fancied a drink - brandy if you must know.

And she certainly left a big impression on one of the barmaids who served her.

She got on famously with the minister but later declared: "She doesn't half know some filthy jokes."

Indeed she does.

Getting serious

If there is any doubt that the race to become the Labour candidate for London mayor is going to get dirty then the latest contender, minister Nick Raynsford, has dispelled it.


[ image: Nick Raynsford: the modern man]
Nick Raynsford: the modern man
His campaign slogan is, quite simply "time to get serious". And his election leaflet declares: "The London mayorality is too serious to be left to the photo opportunity chasers.

"It represents a major government achievement and the fulfilment of an election manifesto commitment. To complete the job it needs a committed, modern and serious London politician who can deliver."

Note the use of the word "modern" which appears no less than five times on his little leaflet.

So far, the other Labour contenders are broadcaster Trevor Phillips, former actress Glenda Jackson and ex-GLC boss Ken Livingstone.

Party members at their conference in Bournemouth think they know which of the three his remarks are mostly aimed at - the oldest of Old Labour politicians and the person most Londoners appear to want as their mayor, Red Ken.

Things could get ugly.

Inside info?

Chancellor Gordon Brown's former spin doctor Charlie Whelan was much in demand at the Labour conference as a pundit.

He was particularly lined up to comment on the keynote speech made by his former boss.

Unfortunately Charlie got the timing mixed up and, when the chancellor was taking the conference by storm, he was enjoying a game of golf and missed the lot.

"Well, you didn't have to actually hear Gordon's speech to know what was going to be in it did you?" he told me later.

Well, actually I did. So what special insights did Charlie have - or is that the silliest question of the conference season>

Speaking against

There was a fun new game going on amongst some of the delegates in Bournemouth as they tried to think up things that are never heard at Labour conferences anymore.

Comrade, brother and block vote were amongst the top contenders.

But the two winners were: "And now we will hear a speech against the platform motion", and "Now let's welcome the fraternal delegate from Cuba."

If you have any political gossip or information on what our MPs are up to, e-mail Nick Assinder (all mails will be treated as confidential).



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