Conservative conference diary

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Indy Politics

* NOT SUCH A JOLLY JAPE

Oh dear. David Cameron was embarrassed last night after a Tory peer's parliamentary adviser was involved in a "minstrel" stunt on the internet. Party officials acted to limit the damage by suspending Philip Clarke, who works for the former attorney general Lord Lyell, for posting pictures of a "blacked-up" Tory worker on the social networking website Facebook with a racist caption. The photo featured Emma Claire Pentreath, a researcher to the Hammersmith and Fulham MP, Greg Hands, and showed Mr Clarke blacking up Ms Pentreath. The picture was captioned: "Emma's career in politics lies in tatters after she follows Ann Winterton's lead and dresses as a 'Nigger Minstrel' for the Tory Black and White Ball." Mrs Winterton, the Congleton MP, was sacked as the Tories' spokeswoman for agriculture in 2002 for making a racist joke. Mr Clarke, 24, said: "I behaved very stupidly and I bitterly regret it." He wasn't the only one.

* New look

Smoothie housing spokesman Michael Gove has undergone a makeover, swapping his specs for contact lenses. The transformation has prompted suggestions that he may be preparing for a leadership bid in a post-Cameron world.

* Security overkill

The Winter Gardens hadn't seen anything like it since Bill Clinton wowed the Labour conference five years ago. Michael Bloomberg, the New York mayor, swept into town with eight bodyguards in tow.

* Far north

Spare a thought for Scottish Tory bigwigs who face a pasting in the election, whenever it comes. Many are ensconced in the Norbreck Castle Hotel, so far north of Blackpool town centre it is almost in their homeland.

* Good day

George Osborne, who won plaudits for producing a much-needed tonic for the troops by promising to scrap inheritance tax on estates below £1m.

* Bad day

Conference organisers and Lancashire Police still contending with hundreds of disgruntled conference-goers awaiting their passes. A Labour Party observer was mysteriously kept waiting eight hours.

* Today's agenda

9.45am: National and international security debate, with Defence spokesman Liam Fox and shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague.

11.15am: Global poverty debate, with International Development spokesman Andrew Mitchell.

2.30pm: Law and order debate, with shadow Home Secretary David Davis.

4pm: Democracy debate, with Democracy Task Force chairman Kenneth Clarke and Justice spokesman Nick Herbert.

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