Hague tells Tories: `Dumb on down!'

WILLIAM HAGUE, at 38 Britain's youngest political party leader, is taking television's oldest game-show host as his new role model. He has decided the Conservative Party has much to learn from 71-year-old presenter Bruce Forsyth.

So taken is he with Mr Forsyth's The Price is Right show that he wants to model part of October's Tory party conference on it. He plans to parade, contestant-style, his new MEPs and councillors before delegates, prior to inviting them - in Bruce Forsyth's bonhomie-brimming catchphrase - to "come on down" to the podium.

He believes the game-show format will draw attention to the rising stars in his party and present the public with a fresh set of Tory personalities. Young candidates who won seats at the European elections, such as Theresa Villiers and Daniel Hannan, are to get the full "celeb" treatment, to emphasise the party's recent election victories.

However, the plan is causing some dismay among staff at Conservative Central Office, who fear that it could be perceived as tacky. "They will be offering us toasters next if we win a seat," commented one party member, who prefers to remain anonymous.

Mr Forsyth famously likes all contestants to be a winner and Mr Hague believes his idea will convince voters that the Conservatives are a winning party. Indeed "winning" is to be a key theme of the conference.

Delegates will be encouraged to applaud and cheer as the "winners" come down to the podium. They may be personally greeted by Mr Hague, exactly as Mr Forsyth does on television.

But some party insiders fear that the move will prove another costly embarrassment, like Ffion Hague's diamante pound-sign necklace or the purchase of a kitchen table for the shadow cabinet to sit around.

A number of Euro MPs are already warning that they would rather attend a meeting of the European Parliament than be press-ganged into "coming on down". Figures such as Lord Bethell, the veteran Tory MEP who regained a seat for the Conservatives in June, could look a trifle out of place in a game-show style format.

But Mr Hague may have to order some of his young stars to return from Strasbourg so that he can show them off.

"The party conference coincides with a Strasbourg session and it could be that we are finally endorsing the new European Commission then," said James Elles, Tory MEP. "This could be a very important meeting for the Conservative group."

Although immortalised by Mr Forsyth, the catchphrase "come on down" was in fact coined by the former host of The Price is Right, Leslie Crowther. He used it to summon members of the audience from their seats and invite them to play for a string of prizes.

Mr Forsyth, who is rumoured to earn in excess of pounds 1m for the show, has through the years been assisted by young, attractive hostesses, of whom the best known is probably Emma Noble, now the wife of James Major, son of former Tory Prime Minister John Major.

It is not yet known if Ffion Hague will play Emma to her husband's Bruce.