While you dodge the security ring of steel around Peter Street and join the protests against the conference – or may be you’re attending the fringe events enthusiastically! – just muse over the bizarre secret service preparations that were taking place inside the Midland Hotel, where the popular Tory Cabinet are staying.
A couple of months ago, innocent looking guests with standard English names were busy placing listening devices behind mirrors, inside light fittings or randomly in the bars and restaurants. Meanwhile, some of the cleaners were not what they seem. As well as doing the cleaning, they were doing the same inside the spacious rooms where the Tory cabinet members will be staying – planting various listening devices.
Yes, Manchester’s most famous hotel has been a security services playground this month. Worryingly, not all the agents engaged in these nefarious activities were ours! They were working for the FSB – Федеральная служба безопасности or Federal’naya sluzhba bezopasnosti – the principal Russian security agency. Fortunately our boys were up to the task. A week before the conference, MI5 turned up to sweep the place clean of all those nasty foreign bugs – and to install their own. But the spooks’ manoeuvres activities didn’t end there. A few days before the conference started, MI9 (Covert Operations) sidled into the hotel to remove MI5’s bugs and replace them with their own. Which is why once all the Government ministers had arrived they were gathered together in the Midland’s Stanley Suite and told: “Don’t say anything interesting inside the hotel. We don’t know who’s listening. We hope it’s our side, but just to keep safe…”
Of course the Midland will deny anything like this is happening, but can they be trusted? After all, they claim Rolls and Royce met for the first time inside the hotel when the truth is somewhat different.
In case you think this is all a little extreme, back in 2006, in the run up to the Labour Party conference taking place in Manchester, when Labour were in power, word came to the British security services that during the conference a lone sniper stationed in the nearby Great Northern Tower apartment block would be taking aim to assassinate the then prime minister, the beloved Tony Blair, as he walked from the Radisson Hotel, where the Labour cabinet was staying, to the conference areas. Taking this as a serious threat, despite the fact that only one British prime minister has been assassinated (at the time of writing), clever protection was installed – a bullet-proof walkway went up between the back of the Radisson and the Convention Complex. In the end nothing untoward happened. Maybe there was a terrorist sniper, but they never got a good aim; maybe it was a hoax. But the various agencies were taking no chances.
While the Tory conference takes place, Manchester will be like a city under siege. The ring of steel around the conference venues and Midland Hotel is up and snipers (from our side) are stationed on the roofs of nearby office blocks to watch out for anything untoward. And let’s not forget that only a few hundred yards from the conference site there are offices for GCHQ. I’ll let you know what they’re up to when I find out in about ten years’ time.