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Blackpool’s Political Revival: From Bill Clinton’s McDonald’s Stop to a Crucial By-Election



Blackpool returns to the political spotlight – years since Bill Clinton's unexpected stop at McDonald's

Following a significant by-election in Blackpool South, the area is once more making headlines as leading political figures revisit the town.

Senior political reporter @joncraig

Thursday, May 2, 2024, 11:

Blackpool, previously a prominent name in UK politics, has reemerged as a significant political location.

Since the 1920s, the top venue for party conferences in the UK has not hosted an autumn conference since 2007.

Currently, Blackpool South is garnering attention due to an important by-election, drawing leading political figures back to the town.

In October 2007, while addressing an audience in Blackpool, the opposition leader taunted the newly appointed prime minister, who had assumed leadership of his party without opposition, to announce a general election.

Does that ring a bell? However, it wasn't Sir Keir Starmer confronting Rishi Sunak. Back then, it was David Cameron">king Gordon Brown shortly after he took over from Tony Blair as prime minister.

Blackpool has a rich history of political events. Indeed, the Conservatives hosted their spring conference there in 2022, although it was a relatively minor affair compared to the major conferences held in the autumn.

The magnificent Winter Gardens, a sprawling Victorian-era entertainment complex, and the renowned Imperial Hotel, which has hosted prime ministers for generations, have become iconic in political lore.

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When leading political figures were absent from the spotlight, entertainment icons such as Elton John, David Bowie, Paul McCartney, Morecambe and Wise, and Bob Hope graced the stage at the Winter Gardens.

Yet, the most notable figure to grace Blackpool's stage was actually a political figure. During the 2002 Labour conference, Bill Clinton captivated the audience with a compelling speech. However, his presence wasn't the only topic of conversation among the attendees.

Just before 11 p.m., accompanied by his team, the ex-president of the United States surprised employees at a coastal McDonald's by stopping by for a burger and a Coke, where he lingered for about 30 minutes.

The Imperial continues to feature its renowned No.10 Bar, decorated with pictures and memorabilia of prime ministers dating back to Lloyd George. The bar boasts stained glass windows, elegant chandeliers, wooden panels, and plush leather chairs reminiscent of a traditional club.

In 1963, Blackpool was the backdrop for a historic clash within the Conservative Party as leaders vied to replace Harold Macmillan as the Prime Minister. The intense rivalry between Alec Douglas-Home and Rab Butler played out at the party conference, marking a significant moment in the party's history.

In the 1970s, this venue hosted Margaret Thatcher's inaugural conference address as the leader of the Conservatives in 1975, where she vehemently criticized Labour's "socialist disease" to thunderous applause and enthusiastic foot-stomping. It marked the beginning of her ascent.

Conversely, at the same venue of Winter Gardens a year subsequent, Labour's Chancellor Denis Healey was met with jeers and harsh criticism from leftist factions while he justified the decision to seek emergency financial aid from the International Monetary Fund in an effort to stabilize the British currency.

In 1977, a young 16-year-old William Hague made his debut in Blackpool's political landscape. During a dynamic speech, he addressed his predominantly older Conservative audience, stating, "It's all right for you. You won't be here in 30 or 40 years time."

Back then, sporting a tousle of fair hair, it's said that he managed to vex Michael Heseltine, another notable Conservative with similar locks, by overshadowing the headlines meant for a speech by the charismatic shadow environment secretary.

One year following Mr. Clinton's trip, in 2003, the Conservatives reconvened in Blackpool. During this gathering, their leader, Iain Duncan Smith, made a bold proclamation: "The quiet man is here to stay and he's turning up the volume." Contrary to his assertion, his tenure was short-lived, as he was deposed just weeks later.

In 2005, following Michael Howard's resignation as the leader of the Conservatives, five aspirants vied to replace him during an event at the Winter Gardens. It was there that Mr. Cameron, initially considered a long shot, catapulted into the role of frontrunner with what Sky News called an "electrifying" display.

At the meeting, David Davis, who was initially leading the race, faced backlash for showcasing female supporters wearing snug T-shirts that declared "It's DD for me". This led to headlines dubbing the controversy "a storm in a DD-cup".

Two years into his leadership, Mr. Cameron, now recognized for his casual approach of walking around the stage without any notes, confronted the sitting prime minister with a daring proposition: "So, Mr. Brown, what will it be? Why not proceed and call the election?" However, he chose not to.

Among all the political party chiefs, Mr. Hague was notably the most enthusiastic about Blackpool. During the 1999 conference, he proclaimed in his address, "We're going to return to Blackpool biennially."

"Years since the Labour Party became too elitist to visit most places, we're making a return to Blackpool."

The Conservative Party and the Labour Party both used to do so, albeit for a limited period. However, that is no longer the case. Nowadays, rather than a grand party conference, it is a significant by-election that has once again highlighted this renowned coastal town in the political sphere.

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