Tinker? No thanks, we'd rather settle down and light the Aga

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Indy Politics
It had, said the party official to the masses, been a very successful conference. "And why," he asked, "has it been so successful?" Unity? John Major? A Labour-smashing performance? No. "Because it has been chaired by Dame Hazel Byford."

And he was absolutely right. I do not really know who Dame Hazel is, but I have a mental image of her, and if it's accurate then this week was, in a very real sense, the triumph of the Dame Hazel Byfords; the victory of conservatism over right radicalism, of getting by over crusading, of twinsets over armour.

Indeed, Dame Hazel and her pals met the disciples of Newt Gingrich and overcame.

During the Prime Minister's Hazelly speech - holding a copy in my hand - I walked along the empty corridors of the conference centre, and his flat, declamatory tones would waft up to me from occasional ventilation shafts, or from around corners.

And this is what he said, more or less. "Once we were radicals. But those times have gone. It is time to stop tinkering with things, time to settle down, to play golf, set up a sports academy and carry on carrying on. Not for us passion, not for us destiny, not for us dangerous dreams of altered states. Welcome in the age of Joanna Trollope and Colin Cowdrey, Agas and untampered balls.

"Now we will conserve. Conserve the union, conserve our institutions (we've destroyed the ones we didn't like), conserve the health service, but more than anything else - in order to conserve everything else - we must conserve us."

Is this realistic? It does seem to entail spending a lot more public money, while cutting taxes at the same time - a return to the good old Byfordian days of stop-go. But then things are often contradictory.

This was the PM on parental choice in education: "More selection? They'll have it. Why should governments say no, if parents think it's right for their children?" But selection is not about parental choice. All parents would choose to be selected, but only a few can be. You see, John and Hazel, the two principles are fundamentally antagonistic. And sooner rather than later people are going to find this out.

You can always pretend, of course. On Thursday afternoon there was a badly attended session to discuss a motion on drugs. Towards the end a tight-curled, thick-spectacled dowdy young woman, who had been speaking animatedly about the "wetchedness of dwugs", came up with her one solution to the epidemic. "If they want to do something exciting and a little bit different," she trilled, "they can join the Young Conservatives!" And afterwards they can join Nicholas Scott at the bar, presumably.

It all conjured up an image of young partygoers, dressed in shirt-sleeves exchanging copies of John Major In The Round videos, and snogging to the sound of Dame Hazel's Greatest Hits. By and large, the conference utterly failed to grasp in any way what was going on out there in this chronically insecure Britain of ours.

And here's another image. On Wednesday, I found Tony Marlow, Euro-phobe MP (one of the whipless wonders), sitting on a sunlit bench outside the Highcliff Hotel, overlooking the blue sea.

To you and me it would simply be a lovely day by the seaside. To Tony it was a perfect vantage point to watch for the sails of the marauding Spaniard, or to listen out for the drone of the Heinkel, or the wind-carried sounds of "Vive l'empereur".

His eyes narrowed as he waited for the European ship to come in. And what, Dame Hazel Byford, are you going to do when it does?

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