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CAROL GRANT - BIRTH OF A WHITE ELEPHANT

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As I write this, delegates are busying enjoying (if that's the right word) the Labour Party conference in Mancheste...
As I write this, delegates are busying enjoying (if that's the right word) the Labour Party conference in Manchester. As you read it, Conservatives in Bournemouth are no doubt thoroughly enjoying Labour's discomfort. The party looks as sure of foot as Neil Kinnock cavorting on Brighton beach.

I have two reactions. The first as a Brighton resident, is relief that Mancunians had to put up with Labour this year. Now they understand the joy of being frisked by a sniffer dog just because you go for a coffee within a three mile radius of the conference centre.

The second is trepidation at what might appear in the way of new policy announcements. The Conservatives are in the lucky position of having to say nothing at all about policy until closer to the next election. They can let their various policy commissions carry on deliberating while Labour implodes. But ministers, desperate to move the focus from the Blair/Brown fissure, will be frantically looking for new policy directions.

Anyone involved will know that when ministers are under pressure to appear dynamic, policy formulation can be a random process. I was once called in at the last minute to produce a launch document for a new public service body. I'll withhold the name to spare the blushes of those concerned.

Special advisers were determined to give the minister something to hold when he made his speech about this important new body at the party conference. The usual process of reviewing policy documents and honing a finely crafted statement of purpose had to be short-circuited. Details of the remit of this new body existed only in the minister's fevered mind, the contents of which were relayed to me secondhand by a deadline-crazed special adviser.

Always one to rise to a challenge, I suggested that it might be helpful to liven up this rather thin document with a few human interest stories of people who might benefit from the new organisation. 'Great idea,' said the special adviser, as he gathered his papers and looked at his watch. 'We must show how we're making a difference to people's lives.' And with that he sped off to his next meeting.

Since there was absolutely no indication of exactly what this new body would do for its constituent audience, I just made the case studies up. This was good fun - a bit like writing an episode of The West Wing when politics turns out just the way you always wanted. My scenario was full of happy, fulfilled people whose lives would be enriched beyond measure by the dreams of this far-sighted and insightful minister.

The speech was given, the document waved about with gusto. The delegates went home and the conference stage was dismantled for another year. In due course the new organisation was set up. It had slick London offices with a bright and airy atrium. It was chock full of enthusiastic new staff, travelling the country to meet their stakeholders, sending each other messages about the new corporate plan on their Blackberries.

It was wound up, quietly, a couple of years later, presumably when all the plants in the atrium had died and the batteries in the Blackberries had run out. I don't think anyone noticed that the much trumpeted benefits for my fictional characters had never come to pass, probably because no-one had bothered to read the launch document in the first place.

I still have a copy and look at it occasionally. Those happy faces still shine out at me, smiling expectantly about how their lives are about to be transformed. I hate to disappoint them. Maybe David Cameron could help them out?

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