The Tories in Bournemouth: New clash of Conservative heavyweights: Employment and Trade chiefs enter the ring after Tuesday's Euro-bout between Hurd and Lamont

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The Independent Online
CABINET rivals Michael Heseltine and Michael Portillo yesterday set out their contrasting brands of Tory philosophy to the Bournemouth conference.

Mr Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade, repeated his readiness to intervene to help British companies to win and emphasised the need to see Europe as other nations did, 'as an opportunity'.

'Turning our backs or simply opting out would be the most abject surrender of national interests. Our choice is to influence what is happening - or let others set the rules,' he said.

Europe took 53 per cent of Britain's exports and was the source of 50 per cent of its imports. The UK had eight out of the top 10 European companies by profitability and the City of London was the largest financial centre in Europe. 'That is the real world, stripped of headlines, devoid of emotion. That is the true manifestation of where Britain's self-interest lies.'

Mr Portillo, Secretary of State for Employment, said the Conservatives were the party of the wealth creators and warned the unemployed that benefit would only be paid to the job seeker, 'not the job shy'.

The conference accorded lengthy standing ovations to both men, Mr Portillo winding up a debate on employment and Mr Heseltine on trade and industry. Mr Portillo's supporters came determined to hail their champion, whooped and cheered when he was introduced and applauded every Thatcherite sentiment. His standing ovation was prolonged by knots of dark-suited young men, whistling and stamping.

John Bercow, Bristol South, the former right-wing leader of the disbanded Federation of Conservative Students, said there was no one better to deal with the 'Euro- comrades' and 'federalist conspirators' than Mr Portillo. 'Who better to slaughter Europe's sacred cows that this prize bullfighter?'

In the last of a series of Euro- sceptic speeches from the floor, Mr Bercow said: 'If there's one thing worse than the provisions of the Social Chapter, it is the cynical, sneaky and unscrupulous way in which Brussels still tries to foist them upon us.'

Mr Portillo dealt briefly with the replacement of unemployment benefit with the job-seeker's allowance - a bargain with the taxpayer in which the unemployed agreed to apply for jobs, go to interviews and train - then announced the further 28,000 fall in unemployment last month. Britain was creating wealth again and it was a word Conservatives were not ashamed of. 'Wealth' provided welfare, and built hospitals, roads, schools and houses.

Concluding with the rhetoric of a leadership challenger, he said that all over the world, countries were following Britain's example and embracing deregulation, free markets, competition and privatisation. 'We have a coherent and unshakeable philosophy. We are members of one of the most successful governing parties the world has ever known. Never did I feel more certain of being a Conservative.'

Mr Heseltine said he disagreed with those who said that the best way for the Tories to win the election was to 'slow the pace. . . to opt for the quiet life'. He detailed how his department was helping small businesses by cutting red tape and providing support services. It had supported the rescue of Leyland Daf and Ferranti at minimum cost to the taxpayer, and was leading medium-sized motor companies to study Japanese techniques.

On privatisation, he told the conference that offers 'measured in many hundreds of millions of pounds' had been received for British Coal's mines. By January he expected to see some 30 pits in the private sector. Almost half of them had been closed by the state- owned industry.

In the wittiest of the repeated conference attacks on 'new Labour' burying Clause IV, Mr Heseltine said the 'implausible' partnership of Tony Blair and John Prescott would tear itself apart - 'as half of it clings to the rocks of yesterday's past, while the other half soars - on clouds of rhetoric - like some out-of-control hot-air balloon lifted into the stratosphere by the age-old device of dropping the baggage'.