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Donkey Derby

by | 10th, October 2005

‘YOU’D have thought Blackpool had enough donkeys on the beach without the Conservatives feeling the need to bring along their own for the party’s annual conference.

But all the Tory big beasts of burden were gathered in the resort for the party’s group chat.

But it wasn’t what was said that interested the papers so much who was saying it the papers viewed the entire thing as part of the party’s wider leadership contest.

The Telegraph looked at the runners and boiled this five donkey race into a straight contest between Kenneth Clarke (long ears, likes to be petted) and David Davies (broad back and unlikely to bolt). The rest – Liam Fox, David Cameron and Sir Malcolm Rifkind were so much glue.

But if Clarke was Davis’s main threat in the Telegraph, the Times spent lots of time listening to Cameron.

As the Times reported, Cameron said that he was a “modern, compassionate Conservative”. He noted that Davis had moved to occupy the touchy-feely ground, and thought we should be wary. “If you like Coke, get the real thing,” advised Cameron. Or else get Kate Moss to support your campaign.

But Davis wanted something a little stronger. “I’m Mr Heineken,” said he. “I mean it when I say Heineken because what I want to do is [have] a Tory party that reaches the parts of Britain it never reached before.”

But whatever the merit and flaws of either brew, the combined effect was to cause a sense of unease in the stomach.

Perhaps best to stick with the carrot juice. Or look again at the drinks menu. And on Tuesday, we supped from Malcolm Rifkind’s tankard.

The Telegraph said that after Rifkind’s speech to conference, the Tory leadership contender was given a 60-second standing ovation which reached 93.5 decibels (a level somewhere between the noise made by a food blender and a rubbish truck).

Well done to him on successfully delivering his message of One Nation Conservatism. Getting the ageing Tory faithful to their feet is no small thing; keeping them there unaided is an achievement an evangelical preacher and a team of medics would have been proud to have performed.

(Cynics will doubtless point out that Iain Duncan Smith, in his speech to conference the last time the Tories were in Blackpool, took 17 standing ovations, even if his own decibel level was around the 6.1 mark.)

But on Wednesday everything had changed. Though not dressed in a hoodie and body-popping, David Cameron, 38, promised to bring back young voters to the Tory party. He wanted the Tories to be “comfortable with modern Britain”. Cameron vowed to deliver a happy slap to the face of British politics.

The audience lapped it up. The elderly delegates in the conference hall applauded as wildly as their doctors’ advice allowed. The younger delegates dreamt of glory under a young, sprightly leader.

Francis Maude, the party chairman the man who in 2001 ran Michael Portillo’s failed Tory leadership election campaign with its modernisation mantra – wondered if Crawley Woman, the voter he’d identified as the one the Tories must seduce if they are ever to form a Government, would back the young buck.

Was Cameron the special one? Was he the Tories’ answer to Tony Blair? By Thursday, we were wondering whether we should start calling him Dave?

Luckily, we didn’t have to think at all. The Times had invited a loose assortment of Tories to chew over the evidence and give their verdicts on what occurred at conference each day.

And to keep things simple Cameron was given a score. He got 7.5 out of ten. That’s far from perfect, but better by 0.5 of a point than gregarious old Kenneth Clarke.

It was neat and clever stuff. Politics has already been reduced to sound-bites, so why not distil those lengthy and dull speeches a bit more and just given them scores out of ten?

“Martin Luther

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Posted: 10th, October 2005 | In: Broadsheets Comment | Follow the Comments on our RSS feed: RSS 2.0 | TrackBack | Permalink