In a gesture of supreme selflessness, the Labour government today announced that it has dropped Blackpool as the host of its Autumn conference, and will instead be holding the event in the Maldives in an effort to restart the tropical paradise's shattered economy.
The English seaside resort was thrown into turmoil at the announcement that Labour will not be returning to its shingle-laden shores this Autumn. Shunning British seaside resorts altogether, delegates will instead be sampling the high life in October of this year when the entire party decamps to The Maldives for a fortnight of speeches on social policy, and limbo dancing competitions.
The Labour party has hired the exclusive Ari Atoll resort, close to the capital Male, for a conference expected to be a triumphant occasion heralding victory in a general election widely tipped to take place this spring. Instead of the traditional dank Blackpool welcome, the Labour party faithful will this year be roughing-it in the recently wave-hit tropical wonderland, where the nearest bawdy "joke" shop is four thousand miles away in the Indian city of Mumbai, and the only rock available is the craggy type that causes maritime tragedies.
Although conference delegates will have to give up their traditional creaky-floored hotels, many of which have a rating of up to two RAC crowns, there has not been the expected outcry at the luxurious private-island beachfront suites that have been provided instead. Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt said today that "although staying in five-star luxury obviously betrays our working-class heritage, it is a sacrifice I am willing to make to help. The tsunami destroyed everything here except for the beaches, flora and fauna, and many of the hotels. Without people like us, the tourist industry may never recover." Foreign Secretray Jack Straw echoed these sentiments. "Having just been on a fact finding tour of the area," said Mr Straw, "it was clear to me that we politicians must do everything in our power to help. As I gaze out across the ocean after my speech, sipping cocktails and wearing a grass skirt, I hope the islanders are grateful to me. Now, where did I put my suntan lotion ?"
Lawyer Derek Gadd, from Notting Hill, a member of the party since 1998 and a veteran of one party conference, spoke of his delight that he could help reconstruct the shattered islands. "Blackpool doesn't need our help. It's charmingly olde-worlde crumbling guest-houses and rusty trams are a testament to the surviving strength of our great British heritage. Our seaside resorts are thriving, it's not as if they need our help in the Autumn. The palm-fringed golden beaches of The Maldives really do need our patronage though, and I for one will be on the first plane in, and the last plane out, to help."
Meanwhile, a tidal wave of criticism has been directed at Colin Aspin of the Blackpool Hotel Association, who has criticised the Government's decision. His remarks that the desertion of the government will "ruin our Autumn and early Winter season, and possibly bankrupt many of the town's businesses" has been met with condemnation. The Daily Mail has called Mr Aspin "the most selfish and evil man in Britain" for his neglect of the suffering millions abroad, and there have been calls to ban hoteliers in other towns from setting up similar associations in the future.
Doubts have been expressed as to whether the infrastructure of the Maldives can cope with the throng of journalists, aides and delegates that conference time entails. A leaked memo seen by this newspaper seems to confirm reports that the Maldives' one conference hall was swept away in the Tsunami and will not be rebuilt in time. The memo concludes with a hand-written note by John Prescott which reads "I don't care, just make sure I get a sea view."