The Tories in Bournemouth: Ted still prefers to face the music rather than 'that bloody woman'

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The Independent Online
MAGGIE was there, but where was Ted? One former Prime Minister was unavoidably absent from the conference yesterday, in spite of the fact that it was the day of the great European and foreign affairs debate, something Sir Edward Heath would not normally miss.

Hugh Dykes, chairman of the European Movement, was also disappointed at Ted's non-appearance, having just made him the President of the EM.

On the eve of the conference, Sir Edward hosted a dinner for senior political correspondents. He then flew to Berlin where he is conducting. It was a long-standing engagement, but it had the added attraction of avoiding having to share the platform with 'that bloody woman'.

His private office said last night that he would return for tomorrow's session, just in time to see Michael Howard, one of Lady Thatcher's admirers, star in that most unlovely of Tory conference traditions - baiting the Home Secretary in the law and order debate.

Simon Heffer, one of Baroness Thatcher's most devoted of fans, failed to attend the lunch with the Blessed One in spite of the fact that it was hosted by his employers, the proprietors of the Sunday Telegraph.

Mr Heffer, hired as deputy editor of its daily counterpart to give the centre pages a Thatcherite edge, decided to foresake his heroine for the attractions of Enoch Powell. The father of Thatcherism was addressing a fringe meeting on 'Ulster and the Union' organised by Conservative Way Forward, of which Lady Thatcher is the president. She would have understood.

The guest list at the Thatcher lunch was a vintage collection of friends: Neil Hamilton, one of her die-hard ministers; the Euro-sceptics Nick Budgen and Bill Cash; Mark Lennox-Boyd, her former parliamentary private secretary; Lord McAlpine, the former party treasurer; Tim Bell and Jimmy Goldsmith, the MEP, who threatened to hog the conversation.

The thundering feet of the press pack which charged after Lady Thatcher's car as she made her way to the conference centre alarmed some of the representatives. David Willetts and Andrew Mackay, two government whips, wondered for a moment why they were being chased by the world's press, before realising it was not for them. 'Life can be so cruel at times,' Mr Mackay said.

Brian Mawhinney, the Secretary of State for Transport, left a loophole for classic cars in his announcement about a crackdown on car exhaust emissions. This came as great relief for Greg Knight, the deputy chief whip, who has a couple of chrome-encrusted post-war American 'belchers'.

Michael Dobbs, deputy chairman of the party, yesterday added to Conservative Central Office's growing collection of gaffes by calling for a Cabinet reshuffle just three months after John Major's last one in July. With two and half years to go to the general election, Mr Dobbs said there was 'time for at least one more reshuffle'.

The author of House of Cards denied he was casting aspersions on the present pack. Perhaps he was anticipating that Douglas Hurd will retire before the election. In the words of one of his characters: 'You may think that, but I cannot possibly comment.'