Conservative Party Conference: The Skettcg - At least slumbering Tories don't draw blood bicker

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THE TORY conference expired and finally fizzled out on a discordant note to the sound of the Dorset Youth Wind Orchestra playing a rendition of "Africa". Jungle music imitating tom-toms went on and on and on.

Bemused and bored conference delegates were handed song sheets. At last they were rewarded for their patience by being allowed to sing "Jerusalem". No one knew the words to "Mountains of Mourne" or "The Road to the Isles".

Some sat, some stood. A few mouthed silently but most looked embarrassed. On the platform, William Hague and new party chairman Michael Ancram stood awkwardly while out-going chairman Cecil Parkinson and deputy leader Peter Lilley pointedly sat down.

It was a total shambles and who ever thought this nonsense up should be fired - except of course, that nearly everyone in Central Office has been fired by Archie Norman. So maybe anarchy now rules there as it does in much of Africa.

Finally, they got "Land of Hope of Glory" and cheered up a little. All they want on the last day is a big speech from the leader, "Pomp and Circumstance" and the National Anthem (we did not even get that). Instead, we sat through four and a half hours of a dull debate on the countryside, yet another speech from Mr Hague introducing Mr Parkinson who said yet another goodbye, and in turn, introduced Mr Ancram, who made yet another appeal for unity.

Mr Ancram called on the conference to dream. Nine times he called on them variously to "dream the Lion's dream ... a dream that raises our eyes ... a dream that heals... " and more in similar vein. For goodness sake, Michael, do your troops not need waking up? Have they not been in Cloud-cuckoo- land long enough? Unless, of course, you take the view that the Tories are better slumbering because when they are awake they only bash each other over the head.

The only time delegates were roused appeared to be during Mr Lilley's speech. We have not seen or heard much recently from Mr Lilley, who until yesterday has been well nigh invisible since he was confined to the darkened area of the Policy Wonk Corner of Central Office.

But he came out fighting with a speech that the conference liked. Audience participation was engaged when he bellowed: "Have you had a good week? Wasn't Ann Widdecombe fantastic?"

It is fair enough to have a knock-about show to gladden hearts of weary and demoralised party members and Mr Lilley succeeded in lifting their spirits with a series of good one-liners. But he spoilt it with a "framework" which had 10 tasks. Any speech which has during its delivery "seventh" ... "ninth"... and "finally" loses listeners' concentration.

He wowed them, however, by bursting into song with his own version of "Pomp and Circumstance", mocking New Labour. So carried away was he that he then sang a Lilley version of "Rule Britannia" which began "Cool Britannia".

They stamped their feet, cheered and called for "more". He called for an end to soundbites. Then he promptly splattered the rest of his speech with soundbites such as "Tony Blair's not a prime minister with attitude, just a politician with platitudes".

Mr Lilley's speech was received with spontaneous rapture but his ovation will be at a price. Television pictures of his warbling will come back to haunt him.

Finally, this nightmare of a conference broke up. The dark clouds that have hung over Bournemouth all week move along the coast to Eastbourne next week when Tory MPs attend a two-day bonding session with Mr Hague.