The Conservative Party in Blackpool: On the Front

IT STARTED without a kiss. Normal practice, of course, is to press the lips reverently to Baroness Thatcher's cheek however rude she has been about you. John Major did it last year, but he was let off yesterday - thanks to Norman Fowler.

Earlier this week Sir Norman delivered quite a good joke about John Smith's kissing of his deputy, Margaret Beckett, on the Labour platform last week - 'with all the sincerity with which Doctor Crippen used to embrace his wife'.

So when negotiations began between the offices of the leader and the Lady on platform protocol, it was pointed out that nasty minds might abuse Sir Norman's gag. Kissing, it was decided, was off.

The Prime Minister muttered a few words near the ear as he took the hand, and then patted it - a touch patronisingly. Rather as Dr Crippen in his surgery might have consoled a hypothermic granny worried about VAT on her fuel bills.

THE problem with being a holy relic of the Conservative Party is that you are just too venerable (or dangerous) to speak. Lady Thatcher is not at her best in silence: she can only cock her head and watch Kenneth Clarke like the goodest girl in the class - which he must have found unnerving. However, Ted Heath is a top mime. When he stood at the end of David Hunt's speech and slowly turned his back on her it was perfectly obvious that he was being a giant panda at the zoo sulkily refusing a new mate flown all the way from China.

Sir Edward looked at her just once, when David Hunt called for loyalty and unity in the party, and fixing her in his stare clapped long and ponderously.

'BLACKPOOL is a horrible place,' the Harlow MP Jerry Hayes wrote in a recent column for Amnesty International. 'The last hotel I stayed in I was the chairman of the escape committee. I've heard of people having puppy fat but they have got landladies who look as though they have swallowed the whole dog.'

Mr Hayes should have been more guarded. He arrived yesterday to find that the Blackpool Evening Gazette had mobilised the furious Blackpool landladies - 'You don't need to be a feminist to take offence at such rudeness' (Pauline, of the Colwyn Hotel). In order to get a bed in Blackpool he had to be photographed for the local newspaper apologising and kissing a variety of local landladies of different sizes.

MOST disappointing freebie of the week was the Scotch Whisky Association's offer of a bottle of whisky with which to toast the Chancellor's speech yesterday. It turned out to be a miniature, only a third full, with a label saying 'Scotch Whisky. 66 per cent Pure Tax.' Still, they got rid of 2,000 of them.

NORMAN Lamont came on like another ghost from the past for his Bow Group fringe meeting - black suit, white shirt and badger hair on a shroud-yellow background. But he was relaxed, urbane and even funny - a relief at a conference that has been marked by ministerial humour at its worst.

He told the meeting: 'Recession is when your neighbour loses his job, depression is when you lose your job. Recovery is when the Chancellor loses his job.' Not bitter, the former Chancellor went on to express the hope that his successor would not suffer both a double dip and a double recovery.