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Telling Tales

The Spectator’s Mr Steerpike recounts some infamous conference moments

22 September 2012

10:40 AM

22 September 2012

10:40 AM

What could possibly go wrong when you lock 10,000 political hacks and flacks in a hotel for 96 hours and let lobbyists pick up the tab? Well that’s party conference for you, and there have been some excellent tales of drunken debauchery over the last few years.

The most riotous parties are the ones upstairs in the private suites of the main conference hotel. Representing the Tory side, Lord Strathclyde fills his bathtub with ice and champagne and opens his doors every year. Rumour has it that he always reserves a magnum for later.

Last year, one Tory MP went so far as to punch a colleague. Other MPs had to drag one of them away. It was  all denials the next day, but multiple witnesses reported that a woman was involved…

Damian McBride, perhaps the most notorious Westminster boozer of his generation, has the most high-profile conference story attached to his CV — the infamous Peroni-gate of 2008. News of Ruth Kelly’s resignation from Brown’s government had prematurely reached the BBC, and after many hours on his Italian beer of choice, Brown’s poisonous spinner found himself caught up in a briefing storm in the conference hotel. Though various blurry versions of events have done the rounds, what is known is that McBride found himself forced to go on the record to a huddle of lobby hacks in the bar at three in the morning.

Work hard and play hard seems to be the mantra for spinners at conference so it’s hardly surprising they let off some steam in the wee hours. While still in opposition, one Tory spinner, having been out until dawn, arrived later in the morning to brief journalists in a highly delicate state. When one journalist complained that she could smell sick, the quick-thinking spin doctor blamed a nearby guide dog. It worked.

Mr Steerpike’s favourite conference story involves the Conservatives’ new head of press, Susie Squire. Before she worked for the party, this leggy brunette was turning heads at the conference bar. One amorous and leathered lobbyist attempted seduction by giving Squire his spare hotel room key, suggesting she join him later. Unimpressed, she saw an opportunity for revenge when another plastered delegate made his move. Slipping him the very same key, she told him to join her upstairs.

Oh to have been a fly on the wall when the two men came face to face.

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