The Conservatives in Brighton / On the Front: A heckler helps to bring performance to its climax

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Indy Politics
MICHAEL HESELTINE, the thing a Tory conference straps on for stimulation, scored the first 100 on the Independent ovation decibel-meter. He did even better than Norman (98db) Tebbit. But the Hezzarouser did not really get going until late on, when some shrill Europhobe heckling brought out the fighting lines: 'This is the articulate voice of the Tory party] I can't understand a word it says and if I could it wouldn't be worth listening to.' He then gave the press benches the traditional, and very stimulating, round of flagellation.

Efforts to identify Heseltine's heckler were unsuccessful. The conference stewards did not recognise him: it is thought his conference pass was not on view. A Tory whip said that all he had discovered of the small group of hecklers was that they were 'invariably male, young and very scruffy'. But they were not from the press.

However, it was typical of the small minds of those with epiglottises less silvered than Heseltine's to say that his PPS, Richard Ottaway, had lined up the hecklers on his master's behalf. And to the minister on the platform who joked that Heseltine's prompt notes were the first he'd ever seen with the answers to heckles scripted in, you can only say - Pah] Little man]

THE nicest thing about this Conference is the random, wilful indiscretion. And if the lords and ladies are doing it, why shouldn't the grassroots? They were at it in a fringe meeting of the brave souls who are fighting to make Conservative Central Office democratically accountable - bizarre notion - to the constituencies whose money they spend. Or overspend: the Tory KGB is currently pounds 12m in debt and 'spending pounds 2,255 per day on interest charges'. Which, you might say, is their own fault in more ways than one.

Eric ('I shouldn't tell you this but I'm going to . . .') Chalker, treasurer of the Greater London Area, gave the meeting one example of gross CCO profligacy. A nation-wide fund-raising letter sent out shortly after the election under Sir Norman Fowler's name raised no more than it cost to despatch (500,000 people got letters, including several Labour MPs). CCO insisted yesterday that the mailshot was a profitable exercise. Of them Chalker says, without apparent irony, 'It is the essence of democracy that if you don't like the way people are doing things you can change the people.'

WAS that David Mellor at the Theatre Royal yesterday lunchtime? The programme promised it would be. The tall man on the stage was diffident, polite, had seen a good orthodontist and lacked any discernible cheesy grin. He admitted, too, that he didn't know that much about arts, heritage, or even fun: 'I've been involved in this, man and boy, for 12 days.' But Peter Brooke, for it was he, is acquiring some of his predecessor's skills. 'Clearly there is,' he told us in his basso ponderoso, 'a massive agenda in terms of knowing what is going on . . . It is particularly obvious that you can't just provide a framework to be set up unless you know clearly what's happening on the ground.' Ah] we thought, he's talking about getting some free tickets]

'ALL EYES were on the door,' says a sad Daily Mail hack. 'But Prince Charming never came through.' Even though he'd promised, John Major never turned up to eat the Mail's oysters on Tuesday night. 'Still, we had Norman Lamont . . . and, er, Sue Cameron out of Newsnight.'

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