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Wednesday, 9 October, 2002, 18:21 GMT 19:21 UK
Taking the Tory temperature
BBC News Online political correspondent Nick Assinder reviews the third day of the Conservative conference in Bournemouth with his verdict on the big speeches

There is a sure fire way of judging the instincts of the Conservative grassroots - listen to speeches by home affairs spokesmen.

This has always been one of the traditional, defining subjects for Tories.

And the way a party conference reacts to these speeches is always a good indication of what really lights their bonfires.

So, when shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin unveiled his "tough but caring" new law and order policies the reaction from the representatives was well worth watching.

In the past, anyone who suggested he backed the death penalty or corporal punishment - the hang 'em, flog 'em brigade - was guaranteed a good reception.

But the new-look Tory party is different, isn't it? Well, apparently not very much.

Whenever Mr Letwin talked about discipline and, in particular, parents being forced to instil respect for authority in their children, he received rapturous applause and "hear, hears".

When he spoke about following New York's approach to policing - basically taking back the streets through a policy of zero tolerance - he had his audience with him.

And when he insisted asylum seekers should be sent back to France they were almost out of their seats with delight.

But when he started down the caring road, things got a bit stickier and they drifted off a bit.

All his talk of rehabilitation, which now forms the basis of the Tory policy on youth and drug-related crime, received only polite applause.

And you could see more than a few in the audience quietly shaking their heads in despair.

None the less, they were still clearly delighted that at least now they had a concrete, and distinctive policy. So they swallowed the rest.

There's only one show in town on the last day of the conference.

Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith will make his keynote speech in the morning before conference draws to a close at lunch time.

Oliver Letwin insists his the rehab units he plans to send all young offenders to are not the infamous boot camps.

"No," grumbled one representative " they're more like trainer camps."

Oliver Letwin's new approach to law and order may worry the disciplinarians in the party - but he still won the ovation of the day.

He has finally rehabilitated himself after the election gaffe over taxes which dropped his then leader William Hague in the mire.

Insiders claim he is one of the brightest sparks on the front bench.

And he has certainly made an impact in Bournemouth and is now firmly on the list of potential future leaders.

The Tories who queued up for two hours for a seat for Mr Letwin's speech. It's a big centre and there are lots of seats. There was no need.

It was Mr Letwin's day all round. He told the conference: "I want to make three important announcements. Actually, they have already been announced by the BBC.

"But I am going to tell you about them properly."

Not bad from the man who spent most of his morning on the BBC spelling out exactly what he was going to tell the conference.

But he obviously felt shamefaced about his attack, adding: "that was a cheap jibe, but politicians are allowed those about the BBC".

OK, you are forgiven.

Spotted in the Tory conference hotel were the Eurovision Song Contest winning band The Brotherhood of Man.

You will, of course, remember them storming the 1976 contest with their snappy little hit "Save Your Kisses" - no?

Well they were England's answer to Abba - apparently - and were in town to entertain the faithful.

Also in Bournemouth to support the Tories, as usual, were singer Patti Boulaye and comic Jim Davidson.

There was much excitement - not to mention ridicule - when it was revealed the conference was this year going to include a "chill out zone" similar to those found in rave clubs.

Somebody really should have told the organisers that a couple of sofas and a tea urn don't quite do it.

Shoe-loving Tory Chairman Theresa May can be pretty feisty when she turns her mind to it.

And she took great exception to a photographer from a national newspaper snapping her as she had her makeup applied.

An aide was called to tear the snapper off a strip or two- so he took a few pictures of her as well.

Things then got a bit out of hand. The big guns were called in and the newspaper in question was threatened with expulsion from the conference if it continued its antics (known as doing its job to the rest of us).

Look out Edwina. I gather a former "partner" from your Oxford university days is currently talking to a national newspaper about his times at your side.

Well, if you can reveal details of your affair with John Major 14 years ago that seems fair enough.

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