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banner Wednesday, 4 October, 2000, 14:52 GMT 15:52 UK
Making an exhibition of themselves

A young Tory hard at work with Conservative Future
You can tell a lot about the state of a political party by the exhibitors at its annual conference.

Last week's Labour conference in Brighton bristled with corporates and conglomerates.

But with around 80 stands the Conservative conference exhibition is much smaller than Labour's, and not even as big as the Liberal Democrats managed for their annual gathering in Bournemouth a fortnight ago.

Virgin, Railtrack and Transco are among the big firms who have decided not to have a presence at the Tories' big week of the year. Going some way to making the conference centre appear less empty, though, are upwards of a dozen Tory stands.

Desperate measures

Some political parties will do anything to get new members. Was it a sign of desperation or the falling standards of the nation's youth that in a bid to recruit new members Conservative Future's Jack had opened his bedroom to all-comers?

Jack's bedroom is open to all
At the back of the Purbeck exhibition hall, his bedroom had been transplanted into the conference centre, complete with dirty washing, Sony play-station, books, and "Austin Powers: the Swine who Shagged me" posters.

CF Jack - the CF stands for Conservative Future - is the composite character the organisation has created, down to creating a "typical young person's" bed-sit on their conference stand.

"It's a composite of all the bedrooms of the nine-strong Conservative Future national executive," David Loader, CF national organiser, proudly explained.

Everything (except the bed - "too big to bring our own") was a genuine domestic item from the home of CF chiefs, even down to the frayed Union Jack underpants slung on top of the linen basket.

"They're Ian's - he's in charge of membership," Loader revealed. "I provided the whisky"- there was plenty of drink - "and the videos".

He insisted the stand had been attracting plenty of interest, and not just from foot-sore conference goers wanting a drink and a quick lie-down on the bed.

"They're Ian's - he's in charge of membership"
The concept behind the stand, was simple. "You can see from the 'bedroom', which looks like any young person's room, that any young person could be a member of Conservative Future," according to Loader.

Were there any plans to follow performance artist Tracey Emin's lead and enter the bed for the Turner Prize?

Fellow CF-er Simon (provider of the bedside lamp and Tottenham scarf) thought not: "No plans as yet but Charles Saatchi" - the Tory and art collector who snapped up much of Ms Emin's work - "is welcome to pay us a load of money for it."

North-south divide

At the other end of the age scale, a comeback was being made at the Carlton Club Collection stand.

With framed prints of the oil portraits of previous Tory prime ministers on sale, Lady Thatcher's portrait was topping the league table, according to the stand's attendant.

"At last year's conference in Blackpool Winston Churchill was the main seller, but this year in Bournemouth it's Margaret Thatcher," she said. "Perhaps it's the north-south divide."

Meanwhile the Bournemouth West Conservative Association, as hosts for the conference, had a prime location for its stall right by the entrance to the conference centre. The main trade for the week was proving to be in raffle tickets, the profits going to local party funds.

"First prize: 1,000," read posters emblazoning the stand. "Second prize: a two-day break in Bournemouth for two."

A passing member of a rival Conservative Association wondered out loud: "What's third prize - spending a whole week here?"

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