Blackpool? No ta luv, say blue rinsers

All at sea » As conference nears, Tories great and small are set to stay away
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The tower, bracing air and pleasure beach at Blackpool appear to have lost their appeal for the Tory "blue rinse" set who normally turn out in droves for the annual Conservative Party conference.

Bookings for the rank and file Tory representatives at this year's annual conference in Blackpool are down, say party insiders. The conference starts on 8 October.

One of the annual sideshows – the picture of former Tory prime ministers looking daggers at each other – is off this year's agenda. Lady Thatcher and John Major will not be there. Sir Edward Heath has made his usual booking at a luxury out-of-town hotel and restaurant, but said yesterday he is not sure whether he will be going to Blackpool this time.

Some Tory stalwarts say they cannot face the long trip to the north from the Home Counties. Others prefer the more graceful appeal of Bournemouth or Brighton to Blackpool's garish sights, including its Illuminations, which made the resort a traditional getaway for the working class from the 1920s to the 1970s.

"Blackpool is a complete turn-off for some in the south," said one Tory MP. "They prefer the gentility of Bournemouth or Brighton. Frankly I'd rather have Blackpool. It's got a much better atmosphere, but there is a long walk between the Winter Gardens and Imperial Hotel. That's a problem for security."

Some Tories relish the conviviality of the bed and breakfasts, and the landladies. Ken Clarke and his wife are said to prefer staying in a small guest house behind the Winter Gardens conference centre than at the Imperial, the main conference hotel.

Shadow ministers feel aggrieved that they will be stuck with a bill of between £500 to £1,000 for a week in a hotel that is often not up to scratch. "Peter Lilley, when he was Secretary of State for Social Security, decided not to stay at the Imperial," said one shadow minister, "and went into a more modest establishment. We joked that he failed to read the sign in the window saying 'DSS accepted'."