Conference 2010 Lookahead | Tuesday 5 October

The who, when and where of today's Conservative party conference.

Look out for

Today's big speech will be from Iain Duncan Smith this afternoon at 14:30. Following George Osborne's announcement yesterday that universal child benefit would be cut, he will be under pressure to articulate his plan for the future of the entire benefit system. Critics of the child benefit cut, including from within the Conservative Party and the right-wing media, have called for the cut to be "softened", so Duncan Smith's response today will be closely scrutinised for signs of this.

In addition, David Cameron hinted in an interview this morning that child benefit would not be included in the planned "universal credit", as it would be tantamount to a "means testing system for every single family in the country", where as Iain Duncan Smith has previously suggested that child benefit would be part of the universal credit.

Signs of trouble

Justice Secretary Ken Clarke, due to speak this morning, could be a source of concern for coalition operatives -- always unpredictable, this weekend he went on record to register his concern that Britain could be heading for a double-dip recession, striking a pessimistic note ahead of a conference at which the Tories will be striving to strike an optimistic note.

In addition to his economic pronouncements, the former chancellor will use his conference speech today to announce new plans to create jobs for prisoners. He is expected to announce plans to involve private companies in creating jobs for prisoners, and perhaps even the creation of special "workplace prisons". Tory grassroots are already reported to be unhappy with Clarke's previous announcements that rehabilitation and community sentences will be used to ease the burden on prisons, and today's speech, with its rhetoric about jails providing "a regime of hard work", will be an attempt by Clarke to appease his critics within his own party.

On the fringe

The New Statesman hosts a panel discussion, chaired by Mehdi Hasan, entitled Gaza life support: Is aid a failure of politics?, with Alan Duncan MP, Robin Kealy from Medical Aid to Palestine, NS contributor Ed Platt, and Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding. 1pm, Cullinan Suite, Copthorne Hotel.

Elsewhere, David Davis MP, Alex Deane of Big Brother Watch, and Matthew Elliott, founder of the Taxpayers' Alliance and campaign director for the No2AV campaign, come together for an event entitled Civil Liberties under the Coalition. 3.15pm, Austin Court.

Today's agenda

10:00 Public services - Andrew Lansley and Michael Gove

11.30 Cutting crime, reforming justice - Ken Clarke and Theresa May

14.30 Reforming welfare - Iain Duncan Smith

15.45 Tackling global poverty - Andrew Mitchell

Caroline Crampton is web editor of the New Statesman.

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The dog at the end of the lead may be small, but in fact what I’m walking is a hound of love

There is a new, hairy face in the Hovel.

There is a new, hairy face in the Hovel. I seem to have become a temporary co-owner of an enthusiastic Chorkie. A Chorkie, in case you’re not quite up to speed with your canine crossbreeds, is a mixture of a chihuahua and a Yorkshire Terrier, and while my friend K— busies herself elsewhere I am looking after this hound.

This falls squarely into the category of Things I Never Thought I’d Do. I’m a cat person, taking my cue from their idleness, cruelty and beauty. Dogs, with their loyalty, their enthusiasm and their barking, are all a little too much for me, even after the first drink of the day. But the dog is here, and I am in loco parentis, and it is up to me to make sure that she is looked after and entertained, and that there is no repetition of the unfortunate accident that occurred outside my housemate’s room, and which needed several tissues and a little poo baggie to make good.

As it is, the dog thinks I am the bee’s knees. To give you an idea of how beeskneesian it finds me, it is licking my feet as I write. “All right,” I feel like saying to her, “you don’t have to go that far.”

But it’s quite nice to be worshipped like this, I have decided. She has also fallen in love with the Hovel, and literally writhes with delight at the stinky cushions on the sofa. Named after Trude Fleischmann, the lesbian erotic photographer of the Twenties, Thirties and Forties, she has decided, with admirable open-mindedness, that I am the Leader of the Pack. When I take the lead, K— gets a little vexed.

“She’s walking on a loose lead, with you,” K— says. “She never does that when I’m walking her.” I don’t even know what that means, until I have a think and work it out.

“She’s also walking to heel with you,” K— adds, and once again I have to join a couple of mental dots before the mists part. It would appear that when it comes to dogs, I have a natural competence and authority, qualities I had never, not even in my most deranged flights of self-love, considered myself to possess in any measurable quantity at all.

And golly, does having a dog change the relationship the British urban flâneur has with the rest of society. The British, especially those living south of Watford, and above all those in London, do not recognise other people’s existence unless they want to buy something off them or stop them standing on the left of the sodding escalator, you idiot. This all changes when you have a dog with you. You are now fair game for any dog-fancier to come up to you and ask the most personal questions about the dog’s history and genealogy. They don’t even have to have a dog of their own; but if you do, you are obliged by law to stop and exchange dog facts.

My knowledge of dog facts is scant, extending not much further beyond them having a leg at each corner and chasing squirrels, so I leave the talking to K—, who, being a friendly sort who could probably talk dog all day long if pressed, is quite happy to do that. I look meanwhile in a kind of blank wonder at whichever brand of dog we’ve just encountered, and marvel not only at the incredible diversity of dog that abounds in the world, but at a realisation that had hitherto escaped me: almost half of London seems to have one.

And here’s the really interesting thing. When I have the leash, the city looks at me another way. And, specifically, the young women of the city. Having reached the age when one ceases to be visible to any member of the opposite sex under 30, I find, all of a sudden, that I exist again. Women of improbable beauty look at Trude, who looks far more Yorkie than chihuahua, apart from when she does that thing with the ears, and then look at me, and smile unguardedly and unironically, signalling to me that they have decided I am a Good Thing and would, were their schedules not preventing them, like to chat and get to know me and the dog a bit better.

I wonder at first if I am imagining this. I mention it to K—.

“Oh yes,” she says, “it’s a thing. My friend P-J regularly borrows her when he wants to get laid. He reckons he’s had about 12 shags thanks to her in the last six months. The problems only arise when they come back again and notice the dog isn’t there.”

I do the maths. Twelve in six months! That’s one a fortnight. An idea begins to form in my mind. I suppose you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out what it is. But no. I couldn’t. Could I?

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 28 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The new fascism