Running hot and cold in Manchester


Yesterday was just one of those days. I was booked to chair a fringe meeting for the New Statesman at lunchtime and so I got to Euston in good time for the Manchester train. That's when it all started to go wrong.

The train 'wasn't ready', which, given that Virgin had presumably had since Saturday night to prepare it, was hard to understand. When we finally did board, the train was chronically overcrowded.

Then there were three announcements from the buffet (or 'shop' as it is now called) one to say it was opening late, another to say it couldn't take change or credit cards, and a third to say it had closed down due to 'unforeseen' problems.

The train then stopped and we were told it would arrive over an hour late. But at least something was working; the air conditioning in our carriage was set so high that people were scrabbling around in their luggage for woollies.

I arrived in Manchester far too late for my meeting, but in time to run to the Piccadilly Sports Bar and watch the last five minutes of my beloved West Brom losing to Aston Villa.

Thoroughly grumpy and miserable I walked the streets of Manchester. Eventually I found a pub with the Chelsea / Man United game, but distracted by the match I accidentally picked up someone else's drink at the bar. As the rather large person in question was remonstrating me Chelsea equalized, an event in which I could immediately tell he somehow felt that I, as a Londoner, was implicated. I beat a hasty retreat.

Of course, I could have gone to the conference, but ever since the Observer printed a tendentious piece two weeks ago suggesting I had been appointed to advise David Cameron I have been getting funny looks from my old comrades.

Eventually it was time for the RSA World at One fringe meeting at the Radisson Hotel. The room was packed and hot and the audience having to be patient as we had pushed back the start time by half an hour to accommodate David Miliband.

Our first speaker was supposed to be Ben Page from IPSOS MORI but for reasons best known to them, the Social Market Foundation had taken his pass and despite my pleadings were utterly indifferent to the fact that he was stuck outside the security cordon with minutes until our meeting.

As the minutes ticked away Ben kept phoning to say the police were getting increasingly suspicious of his story and he was starting to worry about the prospects of a full body search. At this point I snapped, losing my temper with various SMF staff and bellowing (mild) obscenities in front of several rather startled members of the Cabinet.

Eventually I tracked down the pass, and Ben and I ran up five flights of stairs to a meeting room so hot that it could only have felt tolerable to anyone who had just stepped off the super-cooled 08:35 Euston to Manchester.

Ben was a star and entertained everyone with his slides showing the contradictory nature of public opinions. I started my short commments, but RSA and WATO staff were frantically waving at me to inidcate that the Foreign Secretary was ten... no fifteen... no five, no ten minutes away so I slowed down and extemporised.

After 25 minutes, which ranged over my life at the RSA, Number Ten, the Labour Party, and Bootham Street Junior School I dried up, so we had to move to questions. At last after very enlightening exchanges about how to canvass in Mitchum, the design of leaflets and engaging with your local park, Mr Miliband showed up looking relaxed and commanding.

After he had made a few comments Martha Kearney started to quiz him, presumably aware that we were by now running well over time and that several people were showing signs of heat exhaustion. But the conference delegates had been well briefed, so the moment Martha mentioned the leadership issues she got drowned out by a combination of booing and the soft clump of expiring bodies falling to the carpet.

So that WATO could get something to tape for today's programme there was no choice but to overrun, anyway, we couldn't get out of the doors until all the people on stretchers had been carried to safety.

Suddenly I realised I had fifteen minutes to get the last train back to London. There was no choice but to run. As I sprinted past a Cabinet minister, I can't be sure, but I think she murmured 'that's right Taylor, you can run, but you can't hide'.

I made it to the station with two minutes to spare. As I sat down in the carriage my body was steaming, my shirt was soaked, and there was sweat running in rivulets off my forehead. 'Ding Dong' went the announcer 'Welcome to the 20:10 to Euston. Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances, the air conditioning will not be working on this journey.'

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