Hague co-ordinates his team with cords, slacks and brogues

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The Independent Online
TORY MPS gathered at the seaside yesterday with coverage set once more to be dominated by a key dividing issue - their interpretation of "smart casual" dress.

While senior party sources stressed there was no whip on the dress code for their annual Eastbourne bonding session, apart from the obligatory casual tag, it soon became apparent that beige slacks combined with blue sports jackets and deck shoes a la airport lounge chic were the Tory way forward.

On this occasion, William Hague refused to rebuke those on the extreme of the party, namely the three-piece suit section versus the woolly jumper faithfuls, and pledged "good taste is the only rule".

During the two-day meeting, attended by 136 MPs, the party will set out its strategy on fighting next year's local elections, how to communicate "the listening to Britain" campaign to voters and how to deal with the media. Half of the cost of staying in Eastbourne's Grand Hotel has to be met by MPs, with the party's coffers paying the rest.

Archie Norman, the party's chief moderniser and vice- chairman, set the casual tone with an open-neck blue denim- style shirt, navy blazer, chinos and tan suede brogues. But Mr Hague and the former chancellor, Kenneth Clarke, united on the fashion front with a return of the countryside rally look, sporting green twill jackets and slacks.

Mr Hague used the meeting to dismiss findings, by the Centre for Policy Studies, about the extent of voters defecting to Labour and said he always knew the party's comeback would be a great challenge.

Today, Tories will seek to learn about successful campaigning through contributions from Andrew Robb, a former adviser to the Australian Liberal party. "No election is unwinnable but you have to show the voter that you have learnt your lesson and changed," he said.

Mr Hague gave MPs the feeling that the party was well on the way of fighting back when he told them that comedian Rory Bremner had used the Tory soundbite of a "golden economic legacy" in one of his sketches. Admitting that he did not watch the Rory Bremner show very often, he added: "But that is only because I do a better impression of Bremner than he does of Hague."

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