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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 October, 2003, 14:06 GMT 15:06 UK
Conference offcuts
Michael Portillo during the last Conservative leadership campaign
Portillo: A popular media figure
BBC News Online's running diary from Conservative conference in Blackpool.

Humble address: Michael Portillo was the main draw at a fringe meeting on Tuesday night examining the relationship between the media and journalists.

A room deep in the main conference hotel, the Imperial, was packed for the appearance, at which Mr Portillo - whose experiences as a stand-in single parent on Merseyside are to be broadcast on television this month - drew laughter over his 1997 general election defeat.

"I have better relations with the media than with other politicians," he confessed.

This was perhaps ironic, he suggested, as the footage of his 1997 reverse was "subsequently voted by Channel 4 viewers as their third favourite moment of the century".

No clues: Mr Portillo was giving no insight on his own personal views about the current talk of plots against Iain Duncan Smith.

But he was more forthright on the coverage of politicians in the media - and drew particular attention to the impact of programmes such as Spitting Image.

The satirical show had, he suggested, "finished off" David Steel's career, such was the way the former Liberal leader was depicted (in David Owen's pocket, for those who don't recall it).

He said there was also little scrutiny of the way politicians are referred to in comedy programmes, sitcoms and...."those things that go on all the time....that's it, soaps".

Mr Portillo also mentioned the offbeat pop quiz Never Mind the Buzzcocks and Radio 4's Thought for the Day (an admittedly unlikely duo).

"If you look at Buzzcocks you get a lot of very personal political content and as far as I know it comes under no control."

"On Thought for the Day if they say something which is wholly unbalanced you have no comeback at all," he said.

Blackpool Blues: The Tories are getting tired of Blackpool.

Ex-cabinet minister Douglas Hurd told a fringe meeting how peace in the Balkans was forged by locking away the leaders of the opposing sides in an appalling venue with bad food and drink until they came up with a deal.

Tory MP Keith Simpson suggested Blackpool could do the same job for peace in the Middle East.

And there were cheers as former frontbencher Archie Norman told another fringe event the resort did not "roll out the red carpet for us".

Time out: So Conservatism really is timeless, at least if the Daily Telegraph's fringe meeting is anything to go by. Outgoing editor Charles Moore had to interrupt his interview Oliver Letwin to ask what time it was: "I'm not wearing a watch, in fact I don't have a watch," he confessed.

The shadow home secretary had no watch either and to tell the time relied on his pager - surely a most New Labour device.

Another planet: Once the Tory conference has packed its bags and moved on, another one beams into town.

This one will be filled with individuals who can read you aura, reveal the lost secrets of Atlantis and recount their close encounters with UFOs - apparently with an accompanying slide show.

The conference, going under the title "Other Worlds" is being hosted by the local Conservative Association which, presumably, hasn't had enough excitement already.

No mugs: Tory activists have been snapping up mugs featuring Tony Blair.

Not, Iain Duncan Smith will be heartened to know, because they've suddenly converted to the other side, but because of the message they convey.

The mugs feature a picture of Mr Blair alongside a quote: "We have no plans to increase taxes at all."

The mugs - with authentic coffee stains - before and after
The twist comes when you add hot water. The prime minister's nose lengthens Pinocchio-style, with a series of Tory claims about tax rises appearing below.

Sweet victory?: Representatives are being offered Iain Duncan Smith rock - the seaside sweet variety - on the tombola stand at the conference centre. A bargain at three for 2.

Stepping out: Theresa May's choice of footwear made the headlines last year - and her colourful taste in shoes hasn't faded.

Unveiling the conference set on Sunday, Mrs May was sporting a pair of shoes with a leopard print in gold, apparently designed by New York designer Beverly Feldman

Our style writer adds: "They were kind of pointy, and looked a bit like a gondola to me."

On Monday, the Tory chairman - her choice of title - went for black and white zebra print kitten heels by the same designer.

One joke doing the rounds is that Mrs May's obsession with shoes is designed to embody the Tory attack on what they is Labour's "one size fits all" policy.

Digging it: A first for a party conference - the BBC's Gardeners' Question Time is being recorded during the week, with Tory representatives invited to go along.

Star-struck: TV presenter Esther McVey will be attending a C-Change fringe meeting on the "young, educated and politically homeless".

Dunkin' Smith: The Tory leader took time out from conference on Monday to do a few hoops with local teenagers.

He's known to be a big rugby fan, and a regular on the five-a-side football pitch, but his skills on the basketball court had been kept under wraps.

Stormy weather: Tory representatives arriving in Blackpool were greeted on Sunday evening and Monday morning by the sound of the wind whistling along the prom.

Hoteliers say the weather until now has been unseasonally pleasant - but things have changed dramatically with biting winds and rain.


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