The Tories in Bournemouth: Feeding frenzy in blue waters

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SIR BASIL FELDMAN, the chairman of the Tories' National Union, tried to get the opening press conference, by the swimming pool at the Bournemouth International Centre, off to a sunny start. But he and the party chairman were quickly drowning in the Mark Thatcher affair.

'We always have a good conference here,' said Sir Basil, thinking of 1986. Perhaps he had forgotten 1990, when Margaret Thatcher dismissed the Liberal Democrats as a 'sick parrot'. A week later, the Liberal Democrats won Eastbourne. A month later, she was out of office. The Gaffeometer registered its first score of the week.

Under the conference slogan, 'Britain Growing Stronger', Jeremy Hanley jumped in: 'This week in Bournemouth, the Conservative Party will have a conference of achievements. . .' After a lot of splashing about on the long-term hopes of economic recovery leading to political recovery, the chairman came up for air. But the sharks smelled blood in the water.

When he was a defence minister, had he been offered any inducements by Middle East countries? 'No,' Mr Hanley replied.

But a feeding frenzy had started, and the Telegraph pursued him, followed by the BBC. Would there be a ministerial meeting to discuss action on the Mark Thatcher allegations? The chairman flapped strongly, but seemed to be going down.

Sir Basil tried to throw him a lifeline. 'Everyone is asking the same old question in various disguises. Nick, you are not going to be sleazy are you?' Unfortunately, the man from the Times was going to be. Mark's mother was due to arrive - would the party chairman urge her to stay away?

'I am absolutely thrilled Margaret Thatcher will be here tomorrow . . . to endorse the Prime Minister and his team . . .' After four years as Prime Minister, Mr Major may feel that he does not require her endorsement. Cue the Gaffeometer again.

Outside, a lone rubber police launch circled in the bay. The police are laying on a heavy security presence, and it is costing the council-tax payers of Bournemouth a total of pounds 1.3m, or pounds 2 a head, to mount the ring of steel around the swimming pool.

The taxpayers are up in arms - they are asking why the security is so tight, now that the IRA has ceased all military operations. The answer is obvious. The armed guards and men in dinghies have orders to stop Mark Thatcher.

If he did manage to breach the security, he would find at least one old friend - Mr Hanley was his accountancy tutor. 'I taught him . . . and he passed his


Did they all become millionaires overnight?

'Many of my constituents over the 21 years I taught became extremely successful, and most of them are wealthier than I am.'