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It’s already been well covered how the central auditorium, where senior cabinet ministers traditionally make their speeches, is around a fifth of the size it normally is. It has had to be shrunk because this year, as never before, there is a separate auditorium, which will be used just once, for Boris Johnson’s own speech.
Though, for Johnson, this has the pleasing side effect of making everybody else apart from him feel small, there are downsides. The main stage, the main lectern, is about 30 yards from a busy run of food concessions and, acoustically speaking, there is nothing to separate them.
So when Priti Patel sweeps on stage, grits her teeth, and talks her own very dim brand of “tough” on what she’s going to do – after the event – about the rape and murder of a young woman by a serving police officer, it is unfortunate that, in the hall itself, her performative staccato rage is punctuated by lunchtime punters being asked if it’s a chicken or vegetable burrito they’re waiting for.
News of an enquiry into the Met’s handling of the Sarah Everard case is met mainly by oblivious laughter from conference delegates, gathering in crowds by the exits, rehashing the hilarity of the night before in the Midland Hotel bar. A place where – thankfully – nobody has been assaulted for at least 24 hours.
Some cabinet ministers have had to make way more than others. Nadine Dorries, the brand-new culture secretary, has not been allowed to make her own speech, featuring instead in a 20-minute-long “in conversation with” panel alongside Lord Michael Grade and various big cheeses from Pinewood and the James Bond franchise.
Yesterday Dorries caused a terrible flutter by announcing that the BBC is full of people who got there because their mum and dad worked there, entirely oblivious to the very obvious point that she used to have both her daughters working for her in her own parliamentary office at a cost to the taxpayer. Michael Grade, as it happens, used to be chairman of the BBC, a position to which he rose from having been a sports columnist for the Daily Mirror by the age of 21 – a job arranged for him by, you’ve guessed it, his dad.
Thankfully, on this occasion, as he barely paused for breath in between saying how great the government was, how outstanding its support for the arts, Dorries was happy to let that particular bit of nepotism go.
And the government’s coronavirus arts rescue package was indeed a great success. Billions were spent. Theatres and arts organisations up and down the country that might well have gone to the wall were bailed out and saved. It was only when the talk turned, yet again, to the new Bond movie, and Dorries realised she hadn’t said anything for a while that she felt she must blurt out that the Bond movie was the best Bond movie ever and that was “proof” of the success that the government’s coronavirus arts funding had been a huge success that she looked a tiny bit ridiculous.
The Bond movie was filmed, edited and ready for global cinematic release in April last year. None of the government’s emergency pandemic money has been anywhere near it. Indeed most film people have been heavily critical of the Bond studio owners’ decision to keep delaying and delaying its cinematic release out of desperation for high post-pandemic box office takings, when cinemas were crying out for a few big releases somewhat earlier.
But, you know, come on. No one expects the actual secretary of state for culture to know those kind of inconsequential details. No one, actually, expects her to know anything, and in that sense nobody will ever be disappointed by her.