Tory Conference: Midget Entertainers put on their show

Sketch by David Aaronovitch

William was adamant; the Tony Blairites had had a big conference and now the Outlaws - their deadly rivals - must have one too. "Anyway, their's was a jolly rotten conf'rence, " he said bitterly. "And we can hold a much better one, with more clapping 'n' more refreshments."

His colleagues regarded William with admiration, but admiration tinged with alarm. The Blairites' event, held in magnificent surroundings of the church hall, had been generally regarded as a success. The local newspaper had reported, and even the vicar had put in a brief appearance.

As ever, it was Howard who braved his leader's scorn with practical objections. "But wot are we going do for a party?" he objected. "You've gotter have a party, otherwise you jus' make speeches to yourselves, an' no one listens, an' no one reports it."

As it happened the Outlaws were just now passing a large brick building with neglected, overgrown lawns. Above the door, on a rain-damaged painted sign, was the legend, "Dunrulin Home for Retired Gentlefolk". From under this sign an old man with thick glasses rushed up to the Outlaws.

"Ah! Here you are at last!" he puffed, "I thought you'd never come. They're all waiting for you inside!" William did not hesitate. He sensed that here was the audience that he had been seeking.

Inside, William and the Outlaws found themselves standing on a low platform. In front of them were row after row of the oldest, most wrinkled people that they had ever seen, an army in bath-chairs. The short-sighted man introduced the Outlaws as the Botley Troupe of Midget Entertainers

William cleared his throat. "Acshually," he announced, "we're not here to do tricks. We're here to have a conf'rence." He paused and, to his amazement, was applauded. Emboldened, he went on. "So, we're going to have speeches an' votes." The sound of clapping filled the hall. A delighted William continued. "Now, if any of you woul' like to say anythin' first, then jus' indicate."

At the back of the hall a thin hand was raised, shakily. William invited its owner - a tall, wistful-looking old man with glasses - to come down to the front. Introducing himself as "the Major", and speaking in lugubrious tones, the old man spoke about his recent "bereavement", the importance of knowing who your true friends are, and the other afflictions of advanced age. Then he shuffled sadly off.

It was time, William thought, for him to liven things up. He drew himself up to his full height. "Boo!" he said loudly. There was a scattering of applause, a muffled groan and several old ladies toppled from their chairs and lay, unmoving, on the floor. "They're not dead," said William sternly, "they're jus' sleepin'." "No, William" said Howard, who had gone to investigate, "Acshually they are dead."

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