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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 October, 2003, 14:49 GMT 15:49 UK
My Tory conference diary
While all eyes were on Iain Duncan Smith and the Tories' other big guns at the party conference this week, what are these events like for ordinary delegates? Sarah Richardson, a councillor in Westminster, allows us a peek into her conference diary.

Conference
MONDAY, 6 OCTOBER

Like most people, I come up to Blackpool in the morning; there's no direct train from London and it's absolutely packed with delegates.

For the whole of the two-and-a-half hour journey, I have a suitcase jammed under my chin as I try to write a speech - my first at conference - at the same time.

I speak in the education debate that afternoon as a local councillor and as a governor of a local school - I get there in the nick of time. My school is in Southwark, a deprived part of south London, and 70% of the girls are on meal vouchers. Because of funding cuts, we can't afford to rebuild classrooms, and some teachers have had to leave their jobs.

In the evening I go to a drinks reception held by my local MP, Mark Field. He holds this event every year, and this time it's also his birthday.

TUESDAY, 7 OCTOBER

The first two days of conference are taking place in a hurricane! The sea looks glacial the whole time, and the wind blows so hard that several people lose their glasses. My hair is scrapped back in a sensible ponytail the whole time; otherwise I'd look like how Pauline Prescott thinks she looks.

Sarah Richardson
Another late night drinking wine, and I'm longing for a lie-in
Sarah Richardson on Blackpool's weather
First up is a breakfast for women on the candidates' list, hosted by Theresa May (her shoes are out of my sightline, sorry, so I can't comment on her choice).

Some, like me, have applied for seats; others have already been selected. The key message is that you've got to be persistent, and that the party is now so much more receptive to selecting women.

That afternoon, I go to a fringe meeting on relations between the media and MPs, which comes to the conclusion that relations are bad, then on to a reception celebrating our success in the local elections.

Then it's another fringe meeting, and another reception at 10pm for would-be candidates. Another late night drinking wine, and I'm longing for a lie-in.

WEDNESDAY, 8 OCTOBER

No lie-in, but an easier morning - I spend it catching up with friends in the conference hall.

Theresa May in zebra-print shoes
Theresa May's kitten heels have lost the power to shock
Much has been made of the plotting against Iain Duncan Smith's leadership, but that's not why most of us are here. And we see very little of the speculation about it. If I were in London, I'd be reading all the newspapers, but here the most I see is the front page of BBC News Online on my way into the hall.

Lunch is a gathering to encourage people working in the marginal seats, followed by a training session on how to take our message to the voters. One tip is to localise the policy issues coming out of Central Office - for instance, to tell people what difference a bobby on the beat would make in their village.

Then it's out for a meal in Blackpool at a very nice Italian restaurant.

THURSDAY, 9 OCTOBER

The big day arrives. Every conference is a build-up to the leader's speech and this one is no exception - it's the climax. I arrive in time for Boris Johnson's warm-up act - very funny.

Iain Duncan Smith at party conference
Sarah's verdict? Much more polished
As the shadow cabinet troops through, the anticipation builds. When Iain Duncan Smith comes in, it's a really great atmosphere. Some people have been waiting two hours to see him, having turned up early to get good seats.

He seems much more polished compared to last year - yes, he's done media training now, but he's also relaxing into his role. He speaks movingly about a drugs rehabilitation centre in Glasgow, about how it's important to make a difference to people's lives, not just to gain power.

When the applause dies out, it's time to start thinking about heading for home - and getting that lie-in. It's been a great experience. Lots of parties, lots of fun and lots of ideas.

This is the last in a series of diaries from the three main party conferences.


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