Diary: The big Tory dilemma... who pays for our dinner?

Village People at the party conferences
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Indy Politics

The Conservative high command spent the eve of their annual conference wrestling with that dilemma – who pays? Not "who pays for the profligacy of the bankers?" We know the answer to that: everyone who uses or works for in the public sector will pay.

There was a more immediate problem when the bill arrived for the meal that David Cameron and his entourage had in the basement of Manchester's Yang Sing restaurant on Saturday evening. The diners were Cameron himself, his wife Samantha, George Osborne and four Downing Street advisers – Kate Fall, Steve Hilton, Ed Llewellyn and Craig Oliver. The Camerons left early, so the possibility that they might chip in did not arise.

I am told that when the bill came George Osborne, whose speciality is spending taxpayers' money, looked fixedly in another direction. Kate Fall was seen holding the unwanted item at arms' length, trying to persuade Steve Hilton to take responsibility for it – which, eventually, he did.

Sign of the week

I wonder how welcome the Conservatives feel in this city that has not voted for them for years. To enter the conference hall, they have to pass a noisy gauntlet of thousands of protesters, mostly from public sector unions. On the approach to the hall from the Oxford Road railway station, there is a notice, kindly provided by the local council, giving directions, over which someone had yesterday pasted a makeshift cardboard notice saying "Scumbags this way".

The new mugs to back Boris

Of all the commercial and political stands in the conference centre, one of the biggest – if not the biggest – is the Back Boris 2012 stand, which sells Boris merchandise watched over by a deep blue, life-size but faceless cardboard cut-out of the London Mayor.

Meanwhile, a nearby bookshop is piled high with copies of Sonia Purnell's new biography, Just Boris, which is supplying plentiful ammunition to the Mayor's political enemies. Yesterday, Labour focused on a claim in the book that Boris broke a promise to give away the £250,000 a year fee he receives for his Daily Telegraph column, complaining that being asked to part with it was like being "raped".

Labour's Ken Livingstone zoned in on the fact that Boris has two jobs. "If elected I will be a full-time Mayor, giving 110 per cent commitment to serving Londoners," he said, while Harriet Harman, Labour's deputy leader, went for Boris's misuse of the word "raped".