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Tuesday, 8 October, 2002, 18:27 GMT 19:27 UK
Playing the favourite
BBC News Online political correspondent Nick Assinder reviews the second day of the Conservative conference in Bournemouth with his verdict on the big speeches and a pointed ovation

There could not have been a more graphic illustration of where the hearts of grassroots Tory activists currently lie.

And it hints at continuing bad news for Iain Duncan Smith.

It came during the second full day of the conference, which heard from two of the party's acknowledged stars.

First there was the man with the longest - and frankly silliest title in politics - the shadow secretary of state for the office of the deputy prime minister, David Davis.

After a pretty lacklustre speech, he won a standing ovation from the faithful.

Darling David

Then there was the man with two brains, shadow secretary of state for work and pensions - a bit of a mouthful in itself - David Willetts.

After a better speech, he was greeted with silence at places where he paused for applause - and no ovation.

There can be only one rational explanation. Of the two Davids, it is Davis who is their darling.

Both had made speeches riddled with recollections of Thatcherism.

And both had steered well clear of offering even a coded hint that they had leadership ambitions.

Plotting

But the conference made its feelings plain, and it told David D that he is their man.

He's been accused of plotting to replace his leader and he has been demoted as a result.

So the spontaneous ovation for a speech which did not deserve it could not have been more pointed.

It wasn't anything to do with what was said and everything to do with who was saying it.

On that showing, Mr Duncan Smith still has plenty to worry about.

Wednesday's proceedings run under the theme "safer Britain, safer world".

They kick off with a debate on crime led by shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin.

That will be followed by a debate on defence, with a speech from spokesman Bernard Jenkin.

The final debate will be on foreign affairs, led by shadow foreign secretary Michael Ancram.

It will focus on relations with the US and Europe although Iraq is expected to dominate.

John Prescott may be an easy target - and he's certainly big enough to hit. So his shadow, David Davis, did just that.

"Do you remember John Prescott's first job in government? He was given a shiny new super ministry all of his own.

"Give me an integrated transport policy," said Tony Blair.

"Well, the policy never arrived. And soon, neither did the transport."

And here's another one: "Why did Mr Prescott look so furious when he arrived at the Johannesburg summit

"Someone spotted the words on the pass around his neck. It didn't say: 'John Prescott, deputy prime minister'.

"It said: Made entirely from recycled bottles.'"

David Davis (see above), apparently for just turning up.

Iain Duncan Smith - for his ability to drop planet-sized clangers.

When he gave a pep talk to Tory members of the Welsh assembly he banged on at length about the need to prepare for the general election in three years' time and the party's policies on health and education.

First, there are elections to the Welsh assembly - a general election as far as its members are concerned - next May.

Second, health and education are devolved powers and the Tory policies apply only to England.

Still, he did better when trying to woo the Scots by reminding them of his links with their country.

He told them he was born in Edinburgh, so was a Scot himself. Oh, and his dad is buried there.

What more could you ask.

Former Tory chairman and Chingford skinhead Norman Tebbitt: "I have never known the Tory party be disagreeable to homosexuals and other minorities.

"Indeed, if we had been there would not be so many homosexual Tory MPs."

We've had the Tory "mods" (modernisers) and "rockers" (traditionalists) but education spokesman Eleanor Laing has gone one better and invented a new breed.

She complains that no-one remembers the mods and rockers who, in the 1960s regularly turned Brighton beach into the opening scene from Saving Private Ryan.

"I'm a disco Tory," she bravely declares. Well, that drags us into the 1970s at least.

So it's Boney M and "Ra, Ra Rasputin" at the next rally then.


Theresa May, pointing to her latest shoes: "A bit more restrained today"

They were turquoise, alligator-effect high heels.

She is a real star and just the sort of thing the Tories are crying out for.

Dare I say, watch out Iain.


Veteran journalist Bill Deedes was among the guest speakers making an appearance at the conference on Tuesday.

The 89-year-old Tory former cabinet minister received a roar from the hall as he urged the government to "give age a chance".

Lord Deedes, MP for 24 years before becoming editor of the Daily Telegraph, wants managers to keep on older staff.


Another speaker from the media world was television presenter Esther McVey, who is bidding to become a Tory MP.

A former GMTV presenter said she had never agreed with those who said the party was the "selfish party".

Conservative principles had somehow been "lost, distorted or just plain hijacked and it's time to seize them back".

And Ms McVey quipped: "The question I'm most frequently asked is 'What's a nice girl like you doing in a party like this?

"Two questions immediately come to mind. A party like what? And who are you calling a nice girl?"


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