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Last Updated: Monday, 6 October, 2003, 15:51 GMT 16:51 UK
May's conference feat

By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent in Blackpool

Theresa May had given herself a hard act to follow.

After last year's description of the Tories as the "nasty party", there was no way she could top her 2002 party conference speech.

May's speech was well received
The nasty party remark - intended as a wake up call to Tories opposed to liberal reforms - got her in enough hot water to last until the next election.

Labour, for one, will never let her forget it.

So there was nothing in her rallying call to the Blackpool conference that came anywhere near as controversial.

The closest she got to it was when she suggested people did not want politicians who paraded the world stage making high-minded promises.

"All they want is someone to make their lives a bit easier." Now that's aiming high!

Shock value

She also risked the conference's wrath by quoting Bill Clinton favourably - his bit about voters being uninterested in rhetoric about left and right. That was simply met with silence.

Similarly, 12 months on, the kitten heels have lost their shock value.

Last year it was leopard print, this year it was zebra print. She's clearly working her way through the animal kingdom.

Theresa May
Eye catching choice of shoes again

For those who care, they were designed by Beverley Feldman for Russell and Bromley (you can't buy advertising like that).

Still, it was a pretty fair speech for all that. Full of optimism tinged with caution.

Yes, the Tories could win the next election. But not unless they stopped squabbling, ended leadership speculation and continued on the path ahead already mapped out by Iain Duncan Smith.

"There is no future in the past," she warned.

Two minutes

And she still cuts a distinctive figure while on the conference platform.

This year she was mostly wearing black, with pearl necklace and earrings and, of course, those shoes.

And, while she had a big print copy of her speech on the lectern in front of her, she seldom referred to it - having memorised large sections of it word for word.

That allowed her to stand some distance away from the podium, seldom gripping it in that hellfire and damnation style so often favoured by politicians determined to prove they are passionate about something.

All the more opportunity for us to ogle those shoes.

Last year, the Tory chairman, as she insists on calling herself, was the surprise star turn. She was in danger of overshadowing her boss.

Not this year. And, just to be certain, Iain Duncan Smith joined her on stage at the end of her speech to share in the standing ovation.

Now he knows he has got to beat two minutes.

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