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A Tory conference at Bournemouth and bright autumn sunshine; it takes me back. Ten years ago, as a junior political reporter, I was one of The Independent's team on day one. Tony Bevins, our political editor, had been plotting ways of getting his team on to the front page of the first issue. Late in the day, he noticed that I had failed to make it, brusquely ordered me to go to a press conference, and got my work piggy- backed onto a real story written by Sarah Hogg - my least distinguished act of journalism and my proudest hour.

Afterwards, we drank deeply and celebrated over pasta, thinking enviously of the real party back at the Indie's headquarters in London. This year, the political team were there again - drunk, no doubt - while the rest of us had a party at the Victoria and Albert museum, sipping mineral water and being high-minded at one another. (Well, ish.)

I'd like to thank all of you who sent us so many generous birthday messages and cards. A few days ago, I wrote that our typical reader was, among other things, stroppy. Brilliant foresight: the next morning there was a letter from a reader complaining that he hated our news coverage, loathed our front pages, particularly disliked our foreign coverage, was outraged by the comment pages, disgusted by the sport and business, abhorred the cartoons ... He added that he was beginning to wonder whether he was entirely happy with the paper. Sir, don't wonder: you are clearly an Independent reader to your core.

Wedged in a tip-up seat in the hated Press pen at Bournemouth, as the Prime Minister did his genuinely good question-and-answer session for Tory activists, I was reminded again of John Major's almost obsessional hatred of ''snobbery''. There was, as it happens, an excellent example of what he meant deriving from this week's Spectator magazine, which included a diary by Major. It seemed to me well-written and conveyed a genuine flavour of his life, mocking some of the rituals of European summits, and with the odd flourish of waspish wit.

But it is, of course, dangerous territory, since Private Eye's rival ''Diary of John Major'' helped fix the man in the eyes of the nation as a hopelessly Pooterish innocent. It was predictable, then, that Major's real diary was duly described as ''almost identical'' to the spoof (Express) and Pooterish elsewhere - the Daily Telegraph headlined it ''Diary of a Somebody''.

Here was a classic example of the snobbery that so enrages him. But he protests too much. All political leaders in this country are lampooned and caricatured - Tony Blair's reputation is being marinated in pesto and balsamic vinegar all the time, to Major's evident glee. Indeed, I think it is probably unconstitutional for the press not to lampoon politicians. These days, politicians across the world are starting to use their life- histories as marketing tools - ''buy me, I had a tough childhood''.

It is demeaning, and I don't suppose many of us are affected by it. But if politicians play that personality game, they can hardly complain about being mocked.

Our coverage of the Tories' week has been generally quite favourable. This has greatly irritated some senior Labour people, who ask if we are ''changing sides''. I can reassure them. The answer is no. We weren't signed up to Labour before, and we aren't on Major's side now. We reported that the Tory conference went well because it did. This is called journalism.