Heseltine's not going, Archer's not going... so who is?

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The Conservatives are not dead, they are just sleeping, Tony Blair told Labour delegates in Brighton. Kim Sengupta and Anthony Bevins ask whether next week's Tory conference of reawakening will be more like a wake.

It's their party and they will cry if they want to. The Conservative organisers at Blackpool may well be feeling the need for boxes of Kleenex as they contemplate the dwindling guest list at one of the most important party conferences in their 165-year history.

Labour at Brighton was always going to be a hard act to follow. After the election landlside, the party's encore was a triumphant first conference back in power. Now what's left of Smith Square's propaganda machine must try and boost morale in a production where the cast appears to be voting with its feet.

Hotel and boarding house rooms were as hard to find in Brighton as unreconstructed socialists supporting Clause IV. But in Blackpool there have been late cancellations, and those arriving on spec should have no difficulty finding a place to stay.

The people who have already sent their regrets include a sizeable portion of the great and the good who, you would have thought would never have dreamt of snubbing a Conservative conference in the past.

There has also been a reduction in the corporate hospitality field, and fringe meetings. For the first time in many years, the literature sent out from Central Office does not even have a fringe guide.

Michael Heseltine, the former deputy prime minister, is not going; neither, it appears, is Lord Archer, the ex-deputy chairman of the party, who hosted famous champagne and shepherd's pie parties, where his friends say important matters of state were discussed. Two people closely identified with promoting and projecting the Conservatives also appear to be withdrawing. Lord Hanson will be in America next week, and Charles Saatchi is " unlikely to attend". His firm, M & C Saatchi, has also decided not to host its conference bash.

Adair Turner, director general of the Confederation of British Industry, will also be missing from Blackpool, although he was available for Labour at Brighton. Like Lord Hanson, he has a pressing engagement in the US. The CBI stressed that this was not a snub, and he would probably attend next year's conference.

But perhaps the most worrying development for Tory spin doctors is the level of indifference from its traditional supporters in the media. Sir David English, chairman of Associated Newspapers, the owner of the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday, will not be there - the first time he has missed a Tory conference in 20 years.

All is not lost, however. Central Office points out that 3,600 representatives have registered to attend, 400 more than last year.