Conservative conference diary: Brooks Newmark can thank his lucky stars for the allure of Ukip

'He owes Mark Reckless a crate of champagne,' says one conference veteran. 'Normally this story would run for days'

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Indy Politics

Having a well-respected minister such as Brooks Newmark forced out of office by a sex scandal on the day before their conference opens would plunge the Conservative MPs into despair, you might suppose. The truth is that some of them just love it.

They lap up the details and revel in the thought that it is someone else who has got caught. “Sending pictures of parts of himself that should not be on view to a woman he doesn’t know – the technical term for someone who does that is ‘twat’,” I was merrily told by one veteran.

“He owes Mark Reckless a crate of champagne. Normally this story would run for days. As it is, all the commentators are saying the Newmark story is embarrassing, but the one that really matters is Reckless’s defection.”

A visit from Ukip

The Conservative conference is tightly guarded – unlike Labour’s last week, where you only needed a pass to walk in without being frisked or put through a scanner. Here, the usual left-wing mass of demonstrators were a safe distance away in Birmingham’s Victoria Square, where they had a kind of market set up amid the vendors’ cries of “Tories out”, “Don’t attack Iraq” and “Save the Badgers.”

Most had dispersed by late afternoon, when suddenly a new bunch of protesters turned up at the entrance to the security zone to make trouble. They were elderly men, dressed in tweeds who looked more like Tories than the representatives inside. They were an impromptu delegation from Ukip, come to encourage more defectors to follow the path trodden by Mark Reckless. One old fellow told a woman Tory as she breezed past: “You shouldn’t be smiling. There’s nothing to smile about.”

Conservative majority

At one point during the annual football match between journalists and Conservatives (which the hacks won 7-2) an outraged cry was heard from the touchline – the Tories were fielding 12 men. It just goes to show you cannot trust Tory statistics.

Those glory, Tory days

The Tory MP Alistair Burt offers an interesting argument in the news sheet being distributed at the conference by the ConservativeHome website. His argument is summarised in the headline: “The more Tory MPs Scotland has, the better its teams do.”

The high watermark for Scottish football, he claims, was qualifying for the World Cup in Argentina and having Archie Gemmill score against Holland. That was in 1978, when there were 16 Tory MPs north of the border, but that’s a far cry from the 50 there were in the 1930s.

Burt tactfully failed to mention that another memorable incident of the 1978 World Cup was when Scotland’s Willie Johnston was escorted off the pitch at gunpoint and sent home after failing a drugs test. He also skirts over the fact that Scotland qualified for four other world cups since 1978. The latest was in 1998, when they scored against Brazil. By then, there were no Scottish Tory MPs at all. So I do not think Mr Burt’s thesis stands up.