On the Front

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The Independent Online
AN UNRELIABLE source swears blind that a strict directive was issued to ministers at the beginning of the week: be as unfunny as you can, so that, on Friday, when the Prime Minister jokes , everyone will laugh.

Proof needed? They laughed. And: the published text of Kenneth Clarke's speech contained this: 'John Smith is a good name for a pint of beer, but as a future prime minister, forget it. He is all froth and no substance' - not bad by Brighton or Blackpool standards. But Clarke never delivered it.

It was wit from hell week: here is the On The Front bad joke hall of shame.

'Frank Dobson is a brontosaurus' and other Jurassic Park metaphors. In thousands of years' time archaeologists will dig these out of fossilised Conservative Party archives and deduce that the 1993 conference was sponsored by Steven Spielberg.

Virginia Bottomley on social workers: 'A few still seem to think being a guardian means being a Guardian editorial.' (Curiously, Mrs Bottomley had one quite good joke. Dawn Primarolo, she said, is the caring face of Labour's health team - 'a sort of wet Blunkett').

Sir Norman Fowler's suggestion that the Labour Party market a 'Harold Wilson soap-on-the- rope'. Eh?

John Major: 'We're going to use science to catch the criminal - and not let silence protect the criminal.' Worst Word-play Award.

John Major, tapping the microphone: 'It's always a good thing to tap these and check they are on.' This got a big laugh - the audience may have believed John Major was wittily parodying himself. But he wasn't.

Peter Lilley's 'European Phrasebook for Benefit Tourists' eg 'Wo ist das Hotel? Where is the housing department?' Most delegates roared, some Tory MEPs went green and one ambasssador has, reportedly, put in an official complaint.

David Hunt: 'At the TUC you can hear the cry go up 'Delors is my shepherd'.' So bored of Jacques Delors jibes. Bring back Saddam Hussein.

'Bastard' jokes, eg Peter Lilley: 'I've been called a lot worse things than faithless. Heartless, friendless . . . even fatherless.' These are good jokes, in fact, but they don't work at conference. Conservatives aren't that into self- mockery.

THERE'S SOME reshuffling on the right. In the Imperial Hotel Teresa Gorman was busy collecting signatures for the title page of her book of the Maastricht rebellion, Bastards. Baroness Thatcher happily signed and so did Peter Lilley. Michael Portillo took one look and said: 'Take that thing away from me]'

Mrs Gorman says she's now backing Lilley for leader.

THIS was the last conference for Chris Moncrieff, a man little- known outside Westminster but crucial to life within. He retires next year after 32 years reporting politics for the Press Association, and despite the animosity expressed towards the press all week, he was presented with a special 'End of an era' edition of the Conservative Party newspaper signed by all the Cabinet.

Moncrieff, as respected and trusted as anyone could be in Westminster, told yesterday of the occasion he was rung early in the morning by a worried MP.

The latter had just been asked by the Today programme to comment on what he had talked to Moncrieff about the night before. 'What,' asked the MP, 'did I talk about last night? And whose side was I on?'