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The Tories in Bournemouth: Mayhew hunts peace before an Ulster free-for-all: Conference Notebook

THE NORTHERN Ireland debate today could turn nasty against Sir Patrick Mayhew, the Secretary of State, in spite of the efforts of Michael Ancram, the Northern Ireland minister, who has been searching for peace in the conference hall as well as the Province.

Northern Ireland Tory activists are hopping mad at the conference organisers, who are expected to reject an amendment tabled by North Down Conservative Association calling on the Government to act as 'persuaders' for maintaining the Union and to abandon its even-handed approach to the Downing Street initiative.

Sir Patrick has been unable to enjoy a quiet white wine on the fringe without being lobbied by the Ulster Tories. He has firmly told them he has no intention of becoming a 'persuader'.

He has been engaged in long behind-the-scenes talks with William Stuttaford, who is in charge of the conference, about how the debate may be handled.

Mr Ancram has been pouring oil on the troubled Ulster waters at the conference, but yesterday the Ulster Tories, supported by the Ulster Unionist MP David Trimble, were still collecting a protest petition around the Bournemouth International Centre demanding a change of mind by the party heirachy.

The law-and-order debate is the first item of the afternoon - a notoriously tricky spot after the representatives have returned from lunch - and Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, may draw some of the fire for Sir Patrick.

But if the assembled delgates do not break out in a show of what Jeremy Hanley would call 'exuberance', there will be no escape.

The leadership has picked for the balloted motion on Friday morning a call to preserve the Union with Scotland. The Ulster Tories are determined to hijack it.

Day two, and the hundreds of police searching the horizon with powerful binoculars from around the party conference have still seen no sign of Mark Thatcher. But the police officer in the rubber speedboat patrolling the bay had a bit of a scare yesterday afternoon.

With temperatures soaring, he spotted something emerging from the water on the beach by the Bournemouth pier and went in for a closer look.

It turned out to be nothing more threatening than a a topless model, posing for the photographers in the breakers.

Lord Archer has been telling Tory colleagues that he was unable to attend the conference and host his traditional Krug and shepherd's pie reception for the great and allegedly good because of a three-line whip in the House of Lords.

That has not stopped his position as party-giver to the gentry being usurped by the former chief whip in the Lords, Lord Hesketh.

The roly-poly peer, famous for his bow ties, has been hosting parties in suite 223 at the conference hotel. But Lord Hesekth has been serving Pol Roger, which he prefers to Krug.

Saatchi and Saatchi hosted their own champagne party at the Highcliff, attended by the Prime Minister and half the Cabinet, all of whom were waited on by staff wearing Amadeus costumes.

One of the guests was Norman Lamont, enjoying the limelight after delivering his 'bombshell' on Europe on Tuesday, when he was approached by Bruce Anderson, John Major's exuberant biographer.

The former Chancellor thought Mr Anderson was approaching him to congratulate him.

Instead, Mr Anderson angrily denounced Mr Lamont for acting in an ungentlemanly manner. His victim took the abuse in good heart.