25 OCTOBER 1975, Page 11

Tory Conference Diary

The Imperialists of Blackpool

Angela Huth

I must at once admit that the pursuit of politics Is not one of my natural inclinations. Also, being an unadventurous traveller, until last week Blackpool had remained to me an unvisited Mecca. But along comes this invitation: would I care to observe a few of the Tories' antics at their party conference?

On arrival I remembered what they had told Me. "It all really goes on at the Imperial," they said.

Certainly in the hotel lobby this lunchtime there's an air of business, against a backing of flocked walls reminiscent of the dead Caprice. Peer into two bars which are filled with (rumour has it) randy men. Don't dare go in. Sit In safer emerald lobby chair waiting for something to happen. Not a word of copy so far. Then notice small knot of shadowy men near door, all slightly bent as if to resist the Japanese bows that are surging through their blood. A tremor among them. Ah! Mrs. Thatcher arrives. In blue Sunday best (she wore Sunday clothes every day of the week) she whirls through the revolving doors. Her welcomers clutch at their stomachs to keep themselves upright, with great restraint merely incline their heads. After a brief lunch she kingfisher-flashes out again, swiftly followed by a silver-haired gentleman With water-melon smile. They don't share the revolving door. Like those carved people on Swiss weather-vanes who make their exits and entrances so perfectly independent, Mrs Thatcher and Mr Heath never bump. What happens when the mechanism breaks down?

Imperial lobby again, evening. David Howell sits on a sofa surrounded by a frill of eight constituents. "It's not very glamorous here, anymore," he says mournfully. "I've been coming to conferences for fifteen years and they're not the fun they were." Advises my editor and me that we may have trouble gate-crashing Lady Something's party. The Imperial is a-buzz with parties, all furnished with lowly wines representing necessary abstinence in these hard times. Lady Something is indeed stuffy, but eventually won over. Dark Tory suits crowd the ruby carpet. Enter Mrs Thatcher: a little path is reaped for her among the greetings. Guests stare as if she were a shop window, trying to espy The Real Mrs Thatcher, perhaps. The Real Mr Thatcher is one pace behind, rich braid round his dinner jacket, head jerked back a little. Like all consorts, he has quickly learned what to do with his hands. Instead of banishing them behind his back, like the Duke of Edinburgh, he keeps them stroking his throat.

Food is a problem, conference weeks, in Blackpool. But a lovely invitation comes from one who knows the ropes: dinner at the River House at Thornton-le-Fylde. Jim Prior, Beryl and Reggie Maudling, Tom and Jane King, plus a few of the better informed journalists, have also tracked down this unlikely place on the foggy river: fresh lobster and exquisite steak. Champagne and open fires. "Last week," scathes the proprietor, "they were all asking for beer, The Tories, now, they know their food and wine." Mrs Tom King much the prettiest of the Tory wives. At boarding school, aged nine, she was better than any of us at teaching rabbits to walk in harness. Mean to pick my friend's brains on the nature of conference party-ism, but get sidetracked on to less resistible subjects.

Pay real attention to the speeches from the floor next morning. Whatever has happened to the art of oratory? As the Daily Mail pointed out, repeating old opinions, however popular, is not the essence of debate. Should not one with political ambitions, knowing part of his job is to win support from the platform, take a few lessons in the craft of public address? Is there not much to be said for bothering to replace a cliché with a fresher phrase? As for the laziness of the adjectives . . . truly seems to be the in-word. "Truly representative." "Truly demo

cratic." Truly awful word. Sad to find such long stretches of tedium between star turns. Wander about outer halls hoping to find a hot-dog stall among the pamphlets. Jonathan Guinness swings by on his way to speak about Democracy Endangered at a lunchtime meeting. Middle-age cannot dim the brilliant Tory blue of his eyes which are happy because, this year, he says, Europe is out of the way. Last year the bars were shaken by the deeply-felt differences of opinion. (Surely this year they are rattling with what Heath is Supposed to Have Said to Peter Jenkins?) Rush away to hear Lord Hailsham's birthday speech on law and order. Good punchy stuff, no clichés or trulys. From the gallery a small band of unisex faces callingthemselves the Winter Group flash banners saying things like Beware the Enemy Within! Hailsham coruscates on.

By day, nowadays, Tories look quite ordinary. Evening, they're more inclined to give themselves away.The Imperial's lobby tonight at 5.30 is a flutter with long lurex dresses and squirrel tippets. Slight feeling they might all be going to Glyndebourne: in fact, best dresses are all for the ITN party, reputed to be climax of the parties, guarded by security men and impossible to get into without an invitation. Hence very desirable. From out of the nowhere suddenly appear the Georgette Heyer-hero figure of Lord Reay, and the handsome Lord Gowrie. We edge up the Golden Mile towards grilled halibut, which required much skill to locate. Those illuminations! Like a whole fairground uncoiled . . Marvellous until the very end of the line where imagination ran out of steam and the firework patterns give way to half a dozen British Rail signs.

How can the parties establish distinction? Same wine, same people, same rooms. Still, the ITN party definitely contains a brand X of difference. In the huge flowerless ballroom members of the Shadow Cabinet flicker about, avoiding the parquet floor that aches to be waltzed upon. Robin Day glides happily around in time to no music, very benign. Am clutched to his grasp for a while to talk of flogging (not the kind they were debating about), before he whirls on to spread further his cheer. Can't believe what a Sunday paper said about all the men being desperate with randiness by Thursday night (maybe sex is what socialists prefer to oysters and it was different last week) though Nigel Ryan and his team of extraordinarily good-looking men deserve more women than were there. Swear I only caught one, noble, randy glance ...

This morning, Friday, there's quite a different feeling in the hall. Lovely thumping organ music, overtones of Prize Giving Day.

The organ music sadly has to give way to one and a quarter hours of thanks (particularly to wives), only interrupted by appeals for money. (Seems Tories thank almost as much as they change for dinner.) -Buzz of excitement" increases. Mrs Thatcher arrives to "thunderous applause." She wears a turquoise Sunday dress that turns blue on television.

The Real Mr Thatcher is moved to wiping his eyes, and more throat stroking. Did he, I wonder, help her with the mild and bitter joke? Certainly every other word of the speech sounds impressively her own. No clichés, no trulys. Her followers on the floor could take note. As one journalist 'confided' to me, had she spoken in Swahili she would have been a success, so determined was the party on support. As it was, she let no one down.