Tories go on murder mystery weekend

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Indy Politics

When Keith Simpson, the delightfully rotund shadow defence minister, popped out of the Conservative Party's "awayday" yesterday, it was hard to tell if he was joking. "I'm a Tory MP... get me out of here!" he said.

When Keith Simpson, the delightfully rotund shadow defence minister, popped out of the Conservative Party's "awayday" yesterday, it was hard to tell if he was joking. "I'm a Tory MP... get me out of here!" he said.

Forcing a group of C-list politicos to hang out in Buckinghamshire in a desperate attempt to revive their flagging careers did sound uncannily like the latest trash TV craze. When you add the plotting, insincere smiles for the cameras and the setting of impossible tasks (like winning a general election), a cynic may think Mr Simpson was on to something.

Officially, of course, the two-day "bonding" event for 127 Tory MPs was intended to allow discussion of the "Fair Deal for Everyone" strategy ahead of this year's party conference. When Iain Duncan Smith arrived, he said that he and his colleagues wanted to build on last week's local election gains. "Bonding or plotting have nothing to do with it," he said. When asked why Kenneth Clarke, Crispin Blunt and 36 others were not attending, that infamous laugh reappeared: "Heh ... heh ... we are united... heh."

Mr Blunt, whose name is now used as rhyming slang by some at Central Office, had indeed absented himself. But with Michael Portillo and Derek Conway due, hints of intrigue were never far away.

The morning agenda featured campaign techniques. After lunch were what Theresa May, party chairman, called "break-out sessions". It is not thought she was referring to Colditz-style escape advice for those upset at paying £135 each for their spartan rooms.

As the day wore on it became obvious that this was not "I'm a Celebrity...". It was a murder mystery weekend. Not so much Cluedo as Haven't-a-Cluedo. Would it be Professor Hogg in the library with a heavy copy of the constitution? Would it be Colonel Mustard-Loving Portillo in the dining room with leaden poll data? Will Duncan Smith survive until Christmas? YOU decide ...

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