CONFERENCE WHISPERS

Second class MPs
Journalists and MPs haven't been the best of friends recently. So political hacks on the train to Manchester yesterday morning were more than happy to engage in a bit of petty one-upmanship. Virgin Trains were offering £10 upgrades to First Class, where passengers can use the WiFi connection for free. Allowing for a cup of tea (also free in First Class), it was actually cheaper to upgrade than it was to pay for the WiFi in the standard cabin. Soon there was a queue of journalists waiting to buy an upgrade. Sadly for the Tory MPs, first class travel – like champagne – has been banned for the duration of the conference because it doesn't really fit in with the "we're all in it together" mantra. To say the journalists looked smug as they left the MPs for the roomier cabins up front is putting it mildly.

A slippery business
Enterprise minister Mark Prisk came under heavy fire at a packed fringe event last night for the government’s shock £10bn tax raid on North Sea oil companies in the last budget. Again and again he was asked how springing a surprise tax hike on British energy firms is consistent with a growth agenda or deregulation. Prisk said it was proving very difficult taking on the civil service on regulation: “We have to turn the oil tanker that is Whitehall around!” he repeated ad nauseum. Luckily for Prisk, the latest figures show UK oil production down by a whopping 16 per cent in the last quarter. That's one big tanker turned around!