In speeches which at times seemed to assume that the next election was already lost, Michael Forsyth, the Secretary of State for Scotland, and his Welsh counterpart William Hague, competed to present themselves as right-wing harriers of a Labour administration.
Mr Forsyth described the recent confusion over Mr Blair's devolution policy as a "foretaste" of a Labour government. If a Scottish parliament were set up in Edinburgh, he said, Gordon Brown, the shadow Chancellor and MP for Dunfermline East, "could not legislate on ... matters affecting the daily lives of his constituents in Dunfermline, but he could do so for people in Dagenham".
Mr Hague also pursued the effects of a Labour victory, saying: "These assemblies ... would steadily demand more and more powers until they could fulfil their natural role as regulating, legislating, time- wasting, tax-raising busybodies."
But there was an undercurrent to the debate, as the two youngest Cabinet members competed for the approval of Baroness Thatcher, whose arrival on the platform interrupted proceedings for an enthusiastic 40-second ovation.
Mr Hague, 35, first wowed a Tory conference at 16. Just last year, he was given a slot in a youth debate. But yesterday he was given equal billing with Mr Forsyth, and won the loudest roar of approval when he gave the conference its first chance to express its anti-Brussels bloodlust, linking the defence of the Union against devolutionists to its defence against creeping European integration.
But it was Mr Forsyth who stole the television pictures, holding up a Union flag with the blue saltire of Scotland missing: "an anaemic red asterisk". "Is this the flag you want to fly over your children and your children's children?" he asked.Reuse content