Conference Highlights

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Gaffe of the week

Gaffe of the week

Michael Howard makes great play of his love of Liverpool FC, and twice stood for Parliament in the city in the 1970s before winning his constituency in Kent. So he might have shown more sensitivity when he seemed to write off the party's election chances on Merseyside. He told regional journalists: "I would love to win seats in Liverpool and other big cities in the North, but we can win the general election without doing that." His comments delighted the Liberal Democrats, who are emerging as the main challengers to Labour in the urban North. They would also have made uncomfortable reading for Tory standard-bearers in Newcastle, Manchester, Sheffield, Bradford and Leeds, who are apparently regarded as cannon fodder by the Tory high command.

Spookiest coincidence

As pictures of Nicholas "Two Puddings" Soames, the portly shadow Defence Secretary, addressing the conference were relayed around the Bournemouth centre, a caption appeared advertising a fringe meeting later in the day. It was entitled, "Defusing the obesity time-bomb".

Rowdiest party

That was the BBC bash that celebrates the end of three gruelling weeks of conference coverage for staff. This year Andrew Marr, John Pienaar and the Beeb's legendary fixer Paul "Gobby" Lambert and Jon "Duracell" Devitt of the World Service crowded into the Voodoo Lounge to boogie to the likes of Abba and the Darkness. No politicians were seen. A staffer says: "They are not invited; we want to have fun."

Digging deep

The Tories are embracing the latest technology to swell the coffers. Activists can receive political news by text message at £1.50 a time. Why they might want to pay to learn about the latest by-election disaster or poll setback is a mystery.

Biggest let-down

Oliver Letwin, the shadow Chancellor, was widely expected to announce ambitious tax-cutting plans. They waited and they waited. One disappointed MP said afterwards: "It was like coitus interruptus."

Howard at home

Michael Howard treated the party faithful to a glimpse of his domestic routine; every New Year's Eve he and Sandra settle down with a video of Brideshead Revisited, based on Evelyn Waugh's tale of aristocratic decline. Perhaps the Tory leader might want to investigate other Waugh classics, including Decline and Fall and Vile Bodies.

Spectre at the feast

The UK Independence Party, who provided a grim start to the conference by pushing the Tories into a humiliating fourth place in the Hartlepool by-election. That didn't stop more than 200 undercover Tories, their conference passes hidden away, from packing a UKIP fringe on Wednesday.

Beam me up

Tim Yeo told the conference his dream holiday would be a free trip to the moon. Surely that would be the preferred destination of John "Vulcan" Redwood.

Quote of the week

"Today, the sun has come out in Bournemouth and we're on our way": Michael Howard, reflecting dogged confidence.

Best joke

Asked who his political hero was, David Davis said: "Wellington, because I like his policies on Europe."

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