Tory Conference: `Sun' gives Tory party the bird

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THE CONSERVATIVE Party was pronounced yesterday to be "dead ... no more ... it has ceased to be ... this is an ex-party".

Sounds familiar? The words originate from the Monty Python Parrot Sketch featuring John Cleese and Michael Palin first broadcast on television in 1969. Yesterday the front page of The Sun adopted the sentiments with a picture of a parrot hanging upside down from its perch with face of the the Conservative leader, William Hague, superimposed on the bird. Above the perch was the sub-heading "Tories Dead - Official."

The page one opinion piece, which advised Mr Hague to wear a black tie and armband to mark the "suicide" of his party, also ran on to pages six, seven and eight.

Even the thought for the day on the masthead of the nation's biggest selling paper was the solitary word: "Stuffed."

The Sun's attack on the Tory party on the first day of its conference is significant but inconsistent. The front page, largely because of the image of the blue, feathered Mr Hague, will take its place in media folklore alongside such front pages as the one that was said to seal Neil Kinnock's fate in 1992: "If Kinnock wins today, will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights".

David Yelland, the paper's editor, would not comment on the coverage, which for all its vigour had the air of a newspaper desperate to get publicity. It is not so many months after all since the same newspaper asked on its front page, also on the question of Europe,whether its hero Mr Blair was "the most dangerous man in Britain".

The Labour Party leadership might have mixed feelings too over The Sun's parting shot yesterday: "The Conservative Party is survived by three adopted sons: Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson."

Mr Hague put an optimistic interpretation on his mauling. Asked whether he was concerned at so dramatically losing any vestige of support from the newspaper, owned by Rupert Murdoch, he said that a careful reading of The Sun showed that it was calling on his party to "get behind me".