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You are in: Politics News Front Page Friday, 23 August, 2002, 10:51 GMT 11:51 UK World UK England N Ireland Scotland Wales Politics Business Entertainment Science/Nature Technology Health Education

The towering infernal

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------------Talking Point Millbank Tower was synonymous with spin

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By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

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Like red roses, compulsory radio pagers and Peter Mandelson, Millbank Tower is the very essence of New Labour. It is a grand structure absolutely of its time and, unlike much 1960s mod architecture, lacking any radicalism which might frighten the horses. Its bland, soulless exterior disguises a Mandy Towers bland, soulless interior. became synonymous The previous and control freakery headquarters - John Smith House in Walworth Road, south London and before that, believe it or not, the T&G's Transport House reeked of Old Labour. Every room was deliberately filled with smoke to make the inhabitants feel comfortable. 'Millbank tendency' The move to Millbank, therefore, was hugely symbolic and once Mandelson and his pals moved in, the building took on a slightly darker, more intimidating image. Mandy Towers became synonymous with spin doctory and control freakery and, as far as the media was concerned, always had a deliberately unfriendly and unwelcoming "attitude". This was where the teenage "Millbank
with spin doctory

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tendency" presided over the rapid rebuttal unit, designed to nuke Tory propaganda before it left the launch pad and the infamous Excalibur computer which rivalled MI5 in the information it held on anybody and everybody, friend or foe. When hacks turned up for press conferences during the 1997 election campaign, for example, they were issued with electronic press passes that were swiped through a card reader before they were allowed entry.
to The rumour was that Once Mandelson moved inon 'a Millbank the building took slightly darker' image these security posts were linked to Excalibur which would flash back messages like "troublemaker with known anti-New Labour views, do not trust" or "on side, seat at the front".

'Global domination' If Millbank came to resemble anything, it was one of Star Trek's villainous Borg cubes from which half-human half-robot drones were sent out into the universe to assimilate all opposition. Resistance was, indeed, futile and for years nothing stood in the way of Millbank's and New Labour's plans for global domination. It was the breeding ground for numerous Mandelsonies - neat, trendy, humourless young boys and girls with limited political experience but an evangelical "calling" . It was also where characters like Jo "bury the bad news" Moore honed their disreputable black arts. Inevitably, the backlash against spin and control has seen the party bosses looking to change their image. Important symbol Now, after five years as the party's headquarters and communications bunker, New Labour has moved out.

Classy new pastures in Old Queen Street

Millbank has outlived its usefulness and become counterproductive, even an embarrassment. Few will miss it. Anyway, ever since Mandy fell from grace and the spin doctors retreated back into the shadows, it has seemed redundant. And the move to the new building in Old Queen Street is now being spun as just as important and symbolic as the original move to Millbank. The elegant, Georgian building is at the other end of the architectural scale. Thirsty work It nestles in a warren of little streets near the Commons - hacks never liked the walk to Millbank, just too near the Commons for a taxi but just too far for a comfortable stroll. And it lies between two of Westminster's popular watering holes, the Westminster Arms and the Two Chairmen (party boss Charles Clarke will point out that his party has only ONE chairman, of course) and, for some, suspiciously close to the London HQ of the European Commission. It is intended to present a far more welcoming, friendly image to symbolise Chairman Clarke's ambition to bring the party closer to its grassroots and put the days of spin and sleaze behind it. The rapid rebuttal unit will now be known as the communications unit and Excalibur will simply be referred to as "the database." There is a basement which can be quickly converted into a press room with banks of phones, or into a venue for press conferences. Sorry Charles, not a wine cellar! Incidentally, while the party is suffering from a cash crisis, it is also the first HQ it has actually owned - a valuable asset. So as one era ends another opens and we are all being asked to view New Labour in a new light. Or is it all just more spin?
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