Birmingham Diary: Save the bulls,whales, stags, hares, and even the foxes

There is a meeting on the fringe of the conference this morning which is fated to be sparsely attended, and not just because it is at 8am. It will be gathering of Conservatives Against Fox Hunting. Yes, that word is "against".

Tory MPs who opposed fox hunting used to be as rare as Labour MPs who defended it. Now there is a small but growing faction in the party who think it would be wrong or foolish to repeal the Hunting Act. In their manifesto, the Conservatives promised a free vote on the matter, with David Cameron committed to voting for legalisation.

The League Against Cruel Sports has a list of 19 Tory MPs who they say would oppose a repeal, most of them newly elected. Dominic Raab, Tory MP for Esther, is the main speaker at this morning's meeting, though I understand that while he is opposed to stag hunting and hare coursing, he is not necessarily against fox hunting.

But his local party chairman, Chris Pratt, is married to a campaigner who calls herself Blue Fox, aka Lorraine Platt, who is opposed to hunting with dogs.

"How can we influence other countries' policies on bull fighting or whaling if we reverse a ban that was put in place to prevent cruelty?" she asks. "I'm not a politician and I'm not in any animal welfare organisation. I'm just a normal person in the street. Nearly everybody I know is against a repeal, yet this is not reflected in our party."

* After the Tory MP David Davis was overheard using the phrase "Brokeback Coalition" in a wine bar in south London last July, he attributed it to Lord Ashcroft, the party's billionaire bankroller, but at a meeting last night, Mr Davis outed himself as the perpetrator. "Somebody once said about America, 'This country has two great things, freedom of speech and the wisdom never to use it'," he said. "Well, as the author of the Brokeback Coalition joke, I know just what he meant."

Quote of the day

"Listening to Boris was like hearing Posh Spice sing. Everyone on stage froze, and everyone in the audience cheered."

An unnamed minister sees a resemblance between Mrs Beckham and the Mayor of London.

Duncan back for more punishment

Last year, a picture of Alan Duncan, now minister for International Development, was taken at the reception by the New Statesman, causing acute embarrassment. Every minister except one avoided the reception this year. The only one to brave the informal ban was, oddly, Alan Duncan. The hosts were so pleased to see him that he was called upon to give an impromptu speech. "I think more Tory MPs should go," he says.

What are they doing here?

You cannot walk far inside the conference hall without seeing Ed Miliband and Gordon Brown. Not in person, but in the form of very large blow-up pictures, each with a caption to remind you that they used to work together. Conservative spin doctors are hoping the former prime minister's unpopularity will rub off on his protégé.

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