Turning a deaf ear in the face of confusion

CONSERVATIVES IN BOURNEMOUTH
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As Yeats didn't say, this is no country for young men. Most representatives in Bournemouth are getting on, and the effort of exercising two decades' worth of power, and dragging all that jewellery around has made them very tired.

When, during a farmers' protest outside, someone was dragging around an enormous stuffed toy cow, with mock blood, I thought for a horrid moment that one of the delegates had keeled over into their lunchtime ketchup. It is a fact that one of the visited stalls here belongs to the Hearing Aid Association.

Inside, they sit in a huge bank, looking down on a stage set for a musical version of Blake's 7. On the left is a control panel and modernistic desk- space for prime ministers, Thatchers, the conference chairman and the imminent secretary of state.

On the right two sweeping tiers give ample room for armies of ministerial hangers-on. "Before my inevitable standing ovation, may I just introduce my minister of state, Algy Blinker, his PPS Martin Snott, my PPS Jillian Twinsett, our departmental whip Gyles Sneeke, and our spokesman in the Lords, Baroness Cumbersome." In the modern, egalitarian Conservative Party, there are prizes for all; Her Majesty's Government (or Ian Greer) will make sure of that.

Up-stage there is an isolated circle, which looks like a perfect place for stationary tap-dancing, and from which the speeches are made. Yesterday morning, the dance-tune was the Union Fandango, opened by an amiable man called Struan Stevenson, who laid into Labour. "They lifted their kilts," he quipped, "and found nothing that any Scotsman could be proud of, and nothing that any Scotswoman could want."

There was much laughter. But what did this metaphor mean? What had been discovered? Genital warts? Weeny willies? There were two options: analyse the message for a couple of hours, or guffaw idiotically. The conference was happy to do the latter. Then Sebastian Leslie, chinless aristo and prospective parliamentary candidate for Angus East, spoke. "Angus is special," he began, earning funny looks from delegates who hadn't heard where he was from, and were still feeling unsettled by the kilt remarks.

He then explained his problem. Angus, alone in the UK, has apparently been governed by the SNP for 20 years, "causing devastation to the health service" and everything else. The reason was that, "as long as the Nationalists rule Angus, the Socialist establishment in Dundee will dominate!" But, he went on, "I've been knocking at the door of the Secretary of State - and he's been listening! And I've not just been talking about the A52! Our message to the SNP must be hospitals and roads." Er, good. Somewhere on this planet there must be someone who understands what Sebastian is going on about.

Perhaps William Hague did. The former boy-wonder is shiny faced, beaming, healthy and bald, like a free-range egg on E. He replied to the debate on behalf of the Welsh nation (from which he did not spring, which has never elected him, and among whom he has never lived), and ridiculed devolution. He spoke well and loved every second. But it wasn't hard to imagine him making a speech saying exactly the opposite should the exigencies of government require it.

Hague will go all the way. Where he will meet Stephen Dorrell, the strangely noisy Secretary of State for Health. In a special question-and-answer session, he shouted at questioners for an hour and a half. Surprisingly, the more friendly the question, the louder he shouted.

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