25 OCTOBER 1975, Page 5

A Spectator's Notebook

The purpose of the Labour Party Conference is to contain disunity, while that of the Conservatives is to express unity. Usually, the similarity of venue and of bad weather (though Blackpool, foul for the Labour gathering this year, saw beautiful, cold, crisp days throughout the Tory stay) suggests to journalists and other comers of political generalisations that the conferences are almost exactly the same sort of affair, but my generalisation was very evidently true of 1975. There is, for each party, a conclusion to be drawn from its part of the generalisation. The battle between left and — I was going to call it right, but there is precious little in the Labour ranks that could be described as that nowadays without provoking derision — establishment in the Labour Party is Perennial, and it is a built-in part of being left that one is never satisfied. Thus, the energy of the left is inexhaustible, and they slowly win the battle of attrition between themselves and the Labour leadership, though forever complaining that that leadership will not obey conference decisions. The Conservatives, on the other hand, sustain their leadership, and this makes them a much more responsible Party.

The desire of the party to express its unity Was a powerful help to Margaret Thatcher at her first conference: the strength of that desire was something poor Ted Heath never grasped, and his inability to grasp it was one of the reasons why he so foolishly blundered into indiscretion last week. Even before the row got thoroughly going, and when it was being suggested that he should make some sort of gesture of loyalty, one of his closest friends asserted — as I am sure he would not have the courage to assert this week — that the only gesture Heath would be willing to make towards Mrs Thatcher would be with two fingers. Then, in his otiose statement denying that he had described Mrs Thatcher and Sir Keith Joseph as traitors, Heath seemed to regard his conference ovation as some positive demonstration of support for him whereas, as Ian Aitken of the Guardian put it, it was the only ovation ever seen at a funeral, the Tories cheering Heath not because they wanted him as leader, but precisely because they did not.

Her own write

It is commonly agreed among Observers, of course, that Margaret Thatcher did far more last Friday than simply take advantage of the natural and unforced desire of the Tories to applaud their new leader; that, indeed, she made the speech of her lifetime and enjoyed a Wholly unfettered triumph. It was — and she was proud of this fact — the first speech by a Conservative leader for more than a decade largely written by the person delivering it; and this may well have been a major element in its success, for Mrs Thatcher understands the Conservative Party in a way that few of her friends and advisers (no disrespect to them for this lack) do. Moreover, unlike Tory leaders for a generation, she actually likes her party, and that liking is now very fully reciprocated. All the leaders of the recent past have, at various times, expressed very considerable irritation with their troops, and regarded the conference as a tiresome chore. Ted Heath once went so far as to denounce "the bloody Tory Party" which, he thought, was giving insufficent applause to its Leader. A small point sustaining this account of Mrs Thatcher's sentiments, but an important one nonetheless, was the way in which, acknowledging her standing ovation, she leant away from the platform to wave to the representatives assembled in the side galleries, and then left the Winter Gardens by way of the overflow hall, where hundreds had watched her on closed circuit TV and she had a few extra words of thanks for them. She said when elected last Spring that she would be a leader who listened: she is also a leader who has exceptional good manners.

Tories and Israel

I went to lunch at 131ackpool with the Conservative Friends of Israel. This is a fairly new organisation — founded only eight months ago and presided over by the Duke of Devonshire. Already, it has produced ties, badges, and all the paraphernalia of the well-organised group. As yet, of course, it possesses nothing like the standing or reputadon of the Labour Friends of Isreal, its mirror image. But the need for it was very clear during the 1973 Tory conference. Then the Yom Kippur war was on, and the Conservative leadership was deaf in the extreme to Israeli appeals, which could have been much more forcefully put had such a party organisation been in being. At that time, I recall, an Israeli party was crashed by a large number of Tory representatives, not for the normal reasons that people crash parties, but in order to show solidarity with, and sympathy for, the beleaguered Israel.

The guest of honour at lunch this year was Quintin Hailsham, who came, on his birthday, straight from a tour de force on law and order in the conference hall: his welcome was particularly warm ;Jecause of a very strong passage in his speech denouncing terrorism. Among the more heavyweight party guests were Lord Thorneycroft, the party chairman, and Mrs Sally Oppenheim, the Shadow Secretary of State for Consumer Affairs. It does seem clear that there has been a distinct shift of sympathy back towards Israel at all levels among the Tories from the coolness displayed during the Heath leadership.

Fashion note

Mention of Mrs Oppenheim reminds me that, in previous notebooks, we have always commented on how well the ladies looked at Tory conference. Mrs OpPenheim was most dashingly and attractively turned out. She is one of those remarkable women who appears always freshly made-up, always cool, and never tired. For the rest I have to confess a certain disappointment, though, to be frank, it arises out of a preference of my own which I know is not shared by other critics. I was sorry that there were almost no hats: the Leader herslf seldom seems to wear them nowadays, and her female followers are evidently taking what may seem to them to be a hint. What is more, most of the young Conservative women tended to be casually, rather than carefully, dressed. I am ever a defender of casual clothes, especially for modern and slim women, but there should still be a place, especially at conferences, for the care, elaboration and excellence of yesteryear.

Of course, Conservatives, both men and women, remain streets ahead of their Labour counterparts, who get dowdier and scruffier year by year. It seems that it is de rigeur for middle-aged Labour women (except, and this is refreshing, Mrs Castle) to be dowdy, rather as Irish and Mediterranean widows wear black, and for the cohorts of the young to be untidy where they are not unnoticeable and even, quite frequently, dirty. One explanation of this distinction was suggested to me. It was said that, to be elegant and to ring the changes during a conference a woman must bring to Blackpool a very well-stocked pair of suitcases; and that whereas Tory men will carry the personal equipment of their ladies, socialists will not. It is true that I once carried a suitcase for Mary Holland, and she remarked on this distinction between the male Labour and Tory animals. I do hope that the casual dress of young Tory females which I have just mentioned does not bespeak a decline in the manners of Conservative gentlemen.


Michael Hatfield of the Times offered me an excellent suggestion for my civilised smoking campaign. Pointing out that there is a high proportion of smokers among our elder citizens, and that it is a major priority of all parties to make life easy for them, he suggested that the upper decks of buses should be reserved for non-smokers and the lower for smokers. The question arose a propos the fact that the Liberal Party conference had a special non-smoking area. It was reserved, said Hatfield, for Young Liberals who wanted to suck their lollipops in peace.

Neil Kinnock, the Labour MP covering the Tory Conference for the BBC, was bemused, but not too hostile, and seemed to enjoy himself. In this he was greatly different from Eric Heffer a few years ago, who said the only people he could find there to whom he could talk were the man from Pravda and myself. And I have lost my diary, so will anyone who has appointments with me please ring me?