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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 King gave a 9/10 performance yesterday,” writes the Washington Post. “Winston Churchill scored a 9.995,” reports the Mail. “And in improving his oratory by remaining mute on stage for a full ten minutes, George Dubya Bush became the Nadia Comaneci of the political scene with a perfect 10,” says the Texas Lone Star Iconoclast.

The Telegraph spotted the potential in turning politics into a sport, but instead of scores used a league table.

In “WHO’S UP, WHO’S DOWN”, the paper listed a few Tories and alongside each of the names placed a little arrow, pointing up for good and down for bad.

Top of the table was the Tory’s very own Chelsea Blue, the aforesaid Cameron. He’s “the youthful darling of the Notting Hill modernizers,” said the programme notes. And what’s more, his speech had earned him a decibel rating of 92.

That was again better than Kenneth Clarke, whose “joke-packed” conference speech received a 91.8 decibel standing ovation. The boys done good, but both fall short of the 93.5 decibels their agonist Malcolm Rifkind scored for his address.

On Thursday, Conservative Idol produced an upset. Like a contestant on TV’s Pop Idol, Davis looked a dead cert for victory until he opened his mouth. He’d the hair. He’d the Right-wing viewpoint. But he’d as much charisma as, well, Iain Duncan Smith’s cough.

MPs told the Telegraph they were “under-whelmed” by his speech, which was at best “adequate”. One Tory delegate invoked the spirit of another reality talent show and said Davis lacked the “X factor”.

Davis’s star was on the wane. As the Telegraph’s Andrew Gimson said in his sketch, Davis’s call for the Tories to “walk tall again” would be better phrased as “walk tall, but speak short”.

“It was not so much a leadership speech,” wrote Ann Treneman in the Times, “as a speech that led nowhere.” She said Davis’s furtiveness on stage make him look like “some sort of institutionalised bear”.

But on Friday, there was another potential twist. The Telegraph’s front page told of the European Court’s ruling that the British law banning all prisoners from voting was wrong. It was a breach of their human rights.

But not all of the country’s 70,000 inmates will be allowed to vote. The Times said ministers planned to deal with the ruling by introducing a system under which lags will be able to vote by category.

Colin Moses, the general secretary of the Prison Officers’ Association, told the Telegraph that the ruling had turned prisons into “political pressure points”. Politicians’ minds will be focused on winning the prisoners’ votes.

“A lot of prisons are in marginal seats and 600 or 700 votes from prisoners could swing the result of an election one way or the other,”

said he.

So should we expect to see electioneering politicians wooing the prison vote with promises of less police on the beat, a ban on CCTV cameras and a vow that rather than being sent down the very best fraudsters and identity thieves should be given their own shows on TV and hailed as the new Mike Yarwood?

If so, the political parties should start thinking about who should stand in areas with a large convict demographic.

This might well just be the comeback chance some former Tories have been waiting for. Archer for prime minister anyone..?’



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