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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 September, 2004, 14:30 GMT 15:30 UK
Jokers in the conference pack
By Hannah Goff
BBC News Online Politics Staff in Bournemouth

One thing you can bet your bottom dollar on - when it comes to being wacky the Liberal Democrats won't disappoint.

President's duck
The president's duck is a popular attraction
As hung-over delegates wander bleary-eyed between the conference stands they are being urged to handle sex toys, pick up condoms, buy garish yellow baseball caps as well as sign petitions calling for an end to university fees.

At one stall raising cash for the party's candidate in Michael Howard's seat, Peter Carroll, delegates are being asked to beat the Tory leader in a Bruce Forsyth-style play your cards right game.

The Help Beat Howard stand invites players to put a series of Mr Howard's "gaffes" - written on the back of playing cards - in chronological order.

Players have to predict whether cards pinned to the wall will reveal whether the supposedly dodgy statement happened earlier or later than the last one revealed.

Vibrators

Three correct guesses and you win a lollipop, while those successfully reaching the end wins a 'Help beat Howard' T-shirt - but not one that you would wear.

Mr Carroll's campaign helper Miranda Piercy says: "Obviously people can see the humour in it but there is a serious point too."

The Family Planning Association draws giggling delegates in with a couple of items not normally seen in polite company.

Help beat Howard
Helping to beat Howard
"The sex toys are partly about attracting attention but it's also about promoting the positive side to sex," says the FPA's Caroline Davey.

"It can be a bit boring just giving out condoms and talking about sexually transmitted diseases," she says.

"The condoms are going steadily I think they're going faster at the end of the week than at the beginning. I don't know what that says about all the conference parties," she adds.
I was disappointed to see the Countryside Alliance here. They practically back on to the League Against Cruel Sports. If they were any closer, outright war might break out
Gary Scott
Essex councillor

And then there's the Liberal Democrat Image stand where there is more yellow than I have ever seen in one place.

There are sweatshirts, sew-on badges, baseball caps, flags saying "Lib Dems winning here" and black record bags graced by Libby - the bird of freedom.

One of the biggest seller is the President's Duck, another is the Kennedy bear and the hot new edition - the Peace Bear.

Lucy Hurds of Leominster swears by them. "They are good for raffles and local events," she says.

"It's a great stall - there's something for everyone."

But she does say she would draw the line at the baseball cap.

Despite the Lib Dems' new sharper image, there are still a few bearded sandal-wearing delegates wandering among the stalls.

Fur

But members acknowledged there is a bigger corporate presence than in previous years.

Hi-tech computer firms bid for attention against the Post Office and the British Fur Trades Association.

The fur industry is perhaps a surprise guest at the conference of a party that seeks to safeguard animal welfare.

But the association's executive officer Robert Morgan says: "We've been well received. Not everybody believes in fur but the Lib Dems seem to believe in the freedom of choice."

Gary Scott, a councillor in North Essex, says: "I've never seen the National Lottery stand before - that's a new one.

"I was disappointed to see the Countryside Alliance here. They practically back on to the League Against Cruel Sports. If they were any closer, outright war might break out."

Perhaps the corporate presence is a mark of the Lib Dems' recent electoral success - rather than a conscious attempt to get serious.

David White on the Lib Dem Youth and Student stall says the party still retains its sense of fun.

He says: "I would say there's exactly the same number of wacky stalls.

"It's just there are so many more stall in the hall so in a way the wacky ones get a little bit squeezed out."


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