History becomes a Tory story

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It was a day of transformations and continuities in Bournemouth. Continuities came first, as the Tories made speeches about the National Heritage. And within minutes we were plunged into heated dissent, Tory conference-style.

A woman delegate wished, she said, to oppose that section of the motion that called upon the Government to remind the world of the unique contribution of Britain to culture, democracy and cooking (I think it was cooking). Why? Surely she wasn't about to castigate the movers for their incredible arrogance, or to ask why so few Italians, Americans or Japanese stow away on planes and boats, seeking by hook or crook to make their homes in Kings Cross, or Sauchiehall Street?

No such luck. "The rest of the world," she declared, "does not need reminding. They envy our traditions and admire our culture." Of course, 'sobvious. If you live in the country of Leonardo, the Colosseum and Venice, how inadequate you must feel when confronted with Take That, HMS Belfast and Spudulike.

But, as Virginia Bottomley made clear, heritage is not just British, it is Tory. First she referred to something called "John Major's National Lottery" (a bit like Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now). Then she appeared to lay claim to a series of British monuments, including Stonehenge. Which solves one mystery that has baffled archaeologists - the massive stone circle was built by Conservatives.

Michael Portillo came next and with him the first of the transformations, that of the orgasmic Defence Secretary into a tediously responsible politician. There was no declaration of war on imaginary enemies, no blood-curdling call to repel Belgian phantasms. Instead we got Little Noddy's guide to Tory defence policy and the armed forces, all in one-syllable words.

The hair was slightly calmer too, his keratinous wings had been clipped, and the whole lot is now swept back and heavily greased. His tie was a pattern of soft fruits rather than crossed bayonets. With his terrific suits, sculpted, heavy features and large lips, he now looks like a cross between an up-market mannequin and an expensive ventriloquist's dummy - Educating Versace.

This was his closing peroration as I recall it: "Britain is back. They want to throw it all away. We will not let them. We relish the challenge. We know our duty. We offer ourselves to the people. We wear good suits. They want to take them off. We know our parents. They do not. They want to eat you. It's our round. Together we will buy it. Thank you." Polite applause followed. Not only was there no orgasm, there hadn't even been any heavy breathing.

That was left for Kenneth Clarke, the week's surprise package. He certainly ought to be popular: the economy is expanding, incomes are expanding, employment is expanding and - above all - he is expanding. And it isn't inflation, it's real. His features are retreating as his ruddy face engulfs them. But this is no bad thing. Unlike defence secretaries, say, well- being in chancellors has historically been measured by girth. Remember the Lawson boom?

Ken said nothing he hasn't said for years, claimed no more, promised no more, yet prolonged acclamation transformed him from villain to hero. But why? What effort of will made him the conference darling? He was transformed by something that suffuses Tories here. Something they have only just begun to understand. He was transformed by the fear of lost power.