Conservative Party Conference: The Sketch - Buddha and the grandmother face it out at the funeral

TWO OLD-AGE pensioners came face to face yesterday for the first time in years. Like relatives who began a feud 20 years ago and swore never to speak to each other again, they were thrust together at a family gathering.

With the way the Tories are behaving it could have been the party's funeral. Grumpy Great Uncle Ted and the dreaded in-law, "we are a grandmother", took centre stage.

Baroness Thatcher and Sir Edward Heath came on to the conference set to take their seats in the area resembling the day room of an old people's home. For the benefit of the younger members of the Conservative family they attempted to put on a show of good manners.

Before their arrival on stage they met in the hospitality suite behind the platform. It is reported that Lady Thatcher made the first move to break the ice by going over to Sir Edward and asking: "What do you think of the new chairs, Ted?" No record was given as to his response.

The two Titans from the past stood facing each other at the ovation. Lady Thatcher fixed a steely smile and appeared to mouth: "Are you all right, Ted?" He returned an equally icy smile and managed an incline of the head towards her which was almost a bow. Ted slumped into his chair while Maggie arranged herself and her handbag in preparation for another bout of Tory bloodletting on Europe.

Normal hostilities were then resumed as most speakers from the rostrum outdid each other in their Euro-scepticism. For most of the speeches Lady Thatcher led the punctuations of applause. Sir Edward's hands fell limply on either side of his chair. Slumped like a great Buddha, he was motionless and expressionless.

A delegate from the Czech Republic and a shadow foreign minister delighted the conference with words they wanted to hear. Lady Thatcher jumped to her feet, which was the signal for the hall to rise. Sir Edward remained pointedly stuck in his chair but finally lumbered to his feet.

In slow motion he put his hands together four times before slumping back down.

For most of the time speakers hurled abuse at Sir Edward and other Europhiles. He bore it all with dignity but he will wreak revenge, no doubt, in a television soundbite.

Stephen Dorrell, the former cabinet minister, was the only brave soul to confess to voting against William Hague's policy in the ballot and was shouted down by the representatives. It fell to Michael Howard to attempt the task of pouring oil on troubled waters. "Let no one say that the `No' voters are any less Conservative than the rest of us."

In one of the more sensible contributions from the Shadow Cabinet he reminded the conference that the Tory party is composed of many strands. "Our party must never reflect only one tradition. I hope we shall never see the Stalinist control that Mr Blair has had to inflict on New Labour."

Tell that to Mr Hague as we learn that Tory MPs and candidates are to face a loyalty test over the single currency and face deselection unless they sign up to the Hague line.

The conference went on to debate the economy, which enabled the shadow Chancellor, Francis Maude, to re-invent himself. Not normally an "easy on the ear" rabble rouser, he has improved his speaking technique. Television interviewers mix him up with his late father, Angus, who served as a Tory MP and minister. Angus was a bad-tempered, dry old stick. Maude Junior is similarly dry and vinegary but more even-tempered.

He speech was an attack on Labour from start to finish, but lines such as "Culpability Brown" and "Downturn made in Downing Street" gave him a standing ovation.

Lady Thatcher had been learning from Sir Edward and was the last to rise and the first to resume her seat. She will never forget that it was Mr Maude who signed the Maastricht treaty on behalf of the Conservative government.

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