The Conservatives in Blackpool: On the front

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TRY as they might, there isn't a speech-maker here to match Michael Heseltine - said once to be the only man who knows how to find the clitoris of a Conservative conference. Tim Sainsbury, who has the unenviable task of filling the President of the Board of Trade's place today, is unlikely to progress much further than the conference's shin.

The word is that Heseltine and conference may not meet in the same way again. Heseltine, who will appear but not speak today, has had a slow recovery from the heart attack he suffered in Venice in June. He has only just begun to receive ministerial red boxes at home, and though he is expected to speak in the Queen's Speech debate next month, other ministers have had to take over his diary engagements until early December.

'There is a real sense of unease about that Michael might not make it back,' one minister said - the unease caused, doubtless, not just by affectionate concern but also by the prospect of a painful reshuffle.

JEFFREY ARCHER auditioned ably for the vacant post of conference darling. But even he is beginning to tire of his job as the party's chief warm-up man and travelling collection bucket- shaker. He has told friends that unless he is made party chairman, he'll do one more year and then chuck it in. Discussions have already been held.

PETER LILLEY, bent on ''closing down the something for nothing society', should have checked out the Allied Lyons reception for MPs. The food and drink group handed out 100 carrier bags with samples of its goods to guests: who staggered away with spirits, beer, coffee, chocolate biscuits and tea bags.

'It was a sort of two-way information exchange process in an informal atmosphere,' a company spokesman explained. 'I knew the Tory party was cheap, but I didn't know it was that cheap,' a junior minister said, a free bottle of gin in his pocket.

THE RIGHT'S shocking ill-temper has been exacerbated by the choice of one Philip Pedley to propose the (congratulatory) motion in today's debate on employment. As chairman of the Young Conservatives 10 years ago, he was the author of a confidential report on right-wing infiltration that found its way to the BBC's Panorama and became the basis of a programme titled 'Maggie's Militant Tendency'. The party's right-wingers got their revenge by preventing him from standing for Carlisle at the last election.

Pedley's rehabilitation has been masterminded by David Hunt, the Secretary of State for Employment. Hunt has reason to extend his warmth: in 1972 he was forced out of standing for the Plymouth Drake seat after leading a campaign by the Young Conservatives against the Powellites.

A BLACKPOOL cabbie speaks: 'I always say 'Thank God it's you lot, not that Labour shower'. And they say 'Why?' And I say 'Because you never get the sniff of a tip out of them'. Always works, and when the other lot's here, I do the same for them.' A pause. 'What newspaper are you from, then? The Independent? Thank God you're not that Times shower . . .'