It is the annual conference of NATFHE, the lecturers' union: but, alas, hard times have overtaken this august organisation. Gone are the salad days of seaside hotels and late-night bars: instead the event took place at the union's unsalubrious London HQ. And gone were half the delegates, left to enjoy a weekend at home in peace on cost-cutting grounds.
However, the 200-odd leather-jacketed academics who overcame all the obstacles to file solemnly into the Britannia Street hall were determined that the straitened circumstances were not going to spoil all their fun. NATFHE, they reckoned, was still a mighty force to be reckoned with, Roger Ward or no Roger Ward.
The opportunity came with a motion from Wales suggesting that union members should refuse to comply with the new Asylum Bill if it meant shopping suspected illegal immigrants in colleges. Shan't, said the motion.
The steering committee was nervously unequivocal. Not complying with the legislation could mean the union was encouraging members to take illegal action. And anyway, it would be no defence for the actions of individual members or any industrial action which might ensue. Think of the sustentation fund (NATFHE-speak for the strike kitty) which will be at risk of Government seizure if we even vote for this. The delegates thought. And then voted, overwhelmingly, for the motion as they waited for the armed police to pour through the door and seize the assets there and then.
Days later, an inspector has still to call. But, perhaps, the Government would need to be really desperate to fund tax cuts before bothering to sequester NATFHE's bulging strike fund bank account. After all, it contains the massive sum of . . . Pounds 58,000. Not exactly in the National Union of Miners' league, eh?