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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 April 2006, 07:40 GMT 08:40 UK
Whither Tory hopefuls' websites?
Sketch
By Brian Wheeler
BBC News political reporter

There is nothing quite as depressing as leafing through the detritus of old party leadership campaigns.

David Cameron campaign website
Don't look for it - it's no longer there...

All that misplaced optimism; the pledges that will never be fulfilled, the heady predictions of glory long fallen wide of the mark.

That is why, no doubt, the websites set up by the men who battled it out for the leadership of the Conservative Party last year have all now, in one way or another, been zapped into the ether.

The old links all lead somewhere. But in place of glossy mastheads and grinning photographs of the different hopefuls, we find the digital equivalent of tumbleweed and rusty 'closed' signs swaying in the breeze.

Since winning the contest, David Cameron - an internet savvy former PR man - has merged his own web presence with that of his party.

It is all "David Cameron's Conservatives" over at the official Tory site these days.

'Corporate gifts'

He clearly has no need for the site that started it all - cameroncampaign.org - which was finally switched off last week.

If you had clicked on the cameroncampaign.org on Wednesday afternoon you would have found a list of adverts for everything from marketing and public relations services to holiday cottages in Northumberland.

Weirdly, the most prominent advertisement was for a CD of Aston Villa football songs - the premiership team that David Cameron supports - complete with colourful club badge.

Was this a deliberate plug for the bosses' favourite team? Or just a coincidence?

David Davis would like to thank all those who supported his campaign to become leader of the Conservative Party. This site is now closed.
The Davis campaign's website

There were also ads for, among many other things, "Beauty and Cosmetic" products, "Farming, Food and Forestry" and, most intriguingly of all, "Corporate Gifts".

It was all shaping up into a sketch writer's dream.

But anyone hoping to probe further into Cameron's cyber-psyche (or make laboured jokes at his expense) will be sadly disappointed.

Within minutes of the BBC News website contacting Domaincheck, the Newcastle-based company hosting the site, for a comment, the page had disappeared - to be replaced by a log on page for SugarCRM - an American "customer relationship marketing" company.

A spokesman for Perfect Day, the design and advertising company which built Mr Cameron's campaign website, said it had inadvertently been paying for the bandwith until last week, when they cancelled it.

As to why Aston Villa CDs had been advertised on the site - or where SugarCRM fitted into the picture - he said: "I can't help you there."

Traditional values

Less mystery surrounds Kenneth Clarke's erstwhile campaign site.

Kenneth Clarke campaign site
All that remains of the Clarke campaign

Following an old link to the site brings you to a grey page informing users "This account has been suspended".

Beneath that, in smaller print, we find "please contact the billing/support department as soon as possible".

But a spokeswoman for Mr Clarke, who worked on his campaign, said the domain name kennethclarke.co.uk had been rented for the duration of the campaign.

It had now been cancelled and all bills paid, the spokeswoman said, with Mr Clarke reverting back to using his Rushcliffe Conservatives constituency site.

Dr Liam Fox's website, which was a glitzy multi-media effort just a few months ago, now brings up a blank page with the error message "Forbidden - You don't have permission to access / on this server"

Malcolm Rifkind did not reach the stage of having a campaign website.

David Davis campaign site
That's much more like it...

Only shadow home secretary David Davis - appropriately enough for a bastion of traditional values - has continued to welcome visitors, providing a courteous explanation of what they have stumbled across.

Mr Davis retained the domain from his ill-fated 2001 leadership bid - modernconservatives, a name briefly touted as a new identity for the party as a whole.

If you go to that page now, you get just a simple logo and a message to visitors saying: "David Davis would like to thank all those who supported his campaign to become leader of the Conservative Party. This site is now closed."





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