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banner Wednesday, 4 October, 2000, 23:02 GMT 00:02 UK
Heated consensus on the Tory fringe
"The silicon chip inside my head is still functioning and I would not want to dissent from anything my colleagues have said."

Boris Johnson, journalist and now prospective Conservative MP was speaking on the stage of the Pavilion Theatre in Bournemouth.

He was talking as part of a interesting format for political debate.

The Question Time format adapted by the Daily Telegraph's fringe meeting at the Tory conference saw six white men, all of similar age and all Conservatives - bar one - attempt to give slightly different opinions to those of their colleagues "with whom they heartily agreed", while an audience entirely made up of Tories asked the panel searching questions.

Between them the high ranking Tories Oliver Letwin, Dr Liam Fox, John Redwood, Archie Norman as well as Boris Johnson and the only none Tory - Northern Ireland's First Minister David Trimble agreed on everything, pretty much.

Cutting taxes was a good thing, said Oliver Letwin - and John Redwood couldn't agree more.

Those pesky Liberal Democrats were Labour's poodle said John Redwood while Oliver Letwin almost fluffed his return while musing out loud that he may have been a Liberal if Jo Grimmond were still alive, but as he wasn't the Liberals were clearly a very bad thing - after all they would raise taxes even higher than Labour.

The next question from the audience saw the panel and the audience agree, without heated debate, that Conservative policy on the NHS was a good thing.

While the collapse of the Northern Ireland peace process would certainly be a bad thing for everyone across the UK.

Further questions saw the panel agree that the UK "wasn't getting a good deal from the EU" while debate almost broke out over whether the North American Free Trade Area was a better thing.

The consensus was made nearly absolute when David Trimble - discussing whether Tory candidates should stand against his party in Northern Ireland - reminded the audience that they had once been close links between the Ulster Unionists and the Tories.

He offered the idea that they may become closer once again, when he said flirtatiously, "who knows what the future may bring".

All in all it was a very agreeable evening, both panel and audience alike seemed very happy with their questions and answers, and why not, it was their party conference after all.

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