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Friday, October 9, 1998 Published at 13:30 GMT 14:30 UK

Lilley's stand-up fails to hit the right note

Lilley - shouldn't quit the day job

News Online's Nick Assinder takes a look at the final day of the conference and Peter Lilley's attempt to out-do John Prescott.

Rousing the faithful: Listen to Peter Lilley's song
As a stand up comic, Peter Lilley makes a great Tory MP. When Labour launched its end of the Pier show it turned to John Prescott.

He's big, he's controversial and he's in your face. He is Labour's answer to Bernard Manning.

You just know that he is dying to tell you the old joke about the difference between his wife and a terrorist - "you can negotiate with a terrorist."

His irreverent style went down a storm in Blackpool and brought the Labour party conferece to a barnstorming end. The Tories knew they had to hit back, and decided to meet like with like.

Ernie Wise

So how did the they counter this devastating political weapon? They wheeled out Peter Lilley, the Ernie Wise of the Conservative party.

He's hugely enthusiastic, he's well dressed - and he's not funny. He also has ambitions to be a literary figure on the same scale as William Shakespeare.

And, just like Ernie Wise, Peter Lilley delighted his audience with a poem what he had just wrote. In fact, he delighted them with two.

He rewrote both Rule Brittania and Land of Hope and Glory as attacks on Labour, and managed to make them both sound wooden and uninspiring.

Like all truly great comedians, however, his sense of timing was perfect. He left the stage just minutes before his audience turned ugly.

But he had been landed with an impossible task. He was supposed to bring the conference to an upbeat end and focus the delegates' eyes on the future and their return to power.

Grim future

The awful truth, which most of the delegates in Bournemouth finally accepted, is that they are out of power for at least five years - and possibly ten.

They left Bournemouth knowing that, for the first time in nearly two decades, their conference had mattered less than a gathering of the local trainspotters' society.

For five days they berated the government over its econoimic policy, they attempted to fix their sights on a new horizon, and - inevitably - they tore themselves apart over Europe.

They made history by having both Mrgaret Thatcher and Ted Heath on the same platform.

And they ended with the usual rousing chorus of Land of Hope and Glory - the original version.

But their hearts really weren't in it. They knew no one was watching and, most importantly, no one cared.

Not ending with a bang

Tradition has it that the Tories hold their rally at the end of the conference season.

Their meeting is preceded by those for the TUC, the SNP, Plaid Cymru, the Liberal Democrats, Labour and probably even the Natural Law party. And arguably the only one which mattered less was the Natural Law party conference.

The TUC still has strong links with the Labour government and can, up to a point, make demands on Tony Blair's cabinet.

The Liberal Democrats have effectively been included in government through the cabinet committee Paddy Ashdown and others attend. And the nationalist parties have won huge importance as a result of devolution.

But, for the time being, the Tories have no power base or influence worth mentioning. Their Commons presence is miniscule, their MPs and MEPs keep jumping ship and they are locked in a civil war over Europe.

And it would haave taken a greater comedian than either Ernie Wise or Bernard Manning to have put a smile on their faces this week.

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