Heseltine to give Tory party conference a miss

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The Independent Online
Michael Heseltine has fuelled speculation that he may stand down from the Commons, after telling Lord Parkinson he will not attend next week's party conference in Blackpool, to make way for a "new generation" at the top.

Few speakers could have rallied the Conservatives like Mr Heseltine, and their new leader, William Hague, could have used all the help he could get to lift his troops after their election defeat. If it is Mr Heseltine's last appearance on the conference podium, it marks the end of an era of barnstorming performances. The last time he was in Blackpool, he marched on to the platform to poke fun at Labour for shifting to the "left, left, left" and did PT exercises to show he was fit after his first heart attack. His floppy blond quiff was a conference favourite for the party faithful, who forgave him for bringing down the "Iron Lady". But next week he will not be there and the Winter Gardens, Blackpool, will not seem the same without him. The former deputy prime minister and first secretary told Lord Parkinson, the party chairman, he would not be around because of business commitments. However, the party will feel that someone of "Hezza's" appeal could have rearranged his diary to be there.

A party source said: "He spoke to Lord Parkinson saying ...there was a new generation coming up. They are young. The shadow cabinet have got other things to do." Another source denied Mr Heseltine's absence was a snub to Mr Hague. Mr Heseltine recently told friends he may take life easier but did not intend standing down from his Henley seat until the next election. That will not stop speculation that he could be prepared to make way for Chris Patten, former governor of Hong Kong, to return to Parliament, to bolster or replace Mr Hague.