Watching brief - Amanda Platell wonders about Ken Clarke's pants

The Tories blame their failure on the BBC, the <em>Sun</em>, the <em>Financial Times</em> - and as f

It was clearly a "line for the day" they had thought up all on their own, as no one but a politician would think they could get away with blaming the media for the charges of adultery, hypocrisy, irrelevance and sheer incompetence laid at the door of the Tory party.

Whether it be Bernard Jenkin on GMTV or Michael Ancram on the BBC's Conference 2002, the Tories had decided, individually to begin with and collectively as the week rolled on, that the people responsible for the terrible headlines that greeted them each morning were not a bunch of failed, lying, cheating politicians, but the British media. It demonstrated the most curious notion of responsibility - one in which the people who write the stories and conduct the broadcasts are somehow culpable. It also showed a frightening absence of any understanding that the Tories may have brought this mess upon themselves. Conservatives are big on freedom and responsibility, but when it comes to their own actions it is curiously someone else's fault. This time, it's the media wot done it. "Leaders see old guard hijack crucial conference": that'll be that subversive Cathy Newman from the Financial Times again, then. And if it weren't for David Yelland and the Sun's hounding, or Paul Dacre insisting on serialising his prison diary in the Daily Mail, that nice Jeffrey would be a free man.

Who else to blame for the worst figures since polling began other than the BBC political editor Andrew Marr? A clear case of BBC bias, they harrumphed. And you would think the editor of the Times, Robert Thomson, had actually been in bed with Edwina and John himself. Archer summed it all up rather magnificently in the front-page headline in the Daily Mail: "I've no regrets". It may as well have gone on to say: "and no principles and no morals".

It will take more than a tongue-lashing from Theresa May and a pair of leopard-skin stilettos to get the Tories out of this fine mess.

How frustrated the Majorettes must have been when Edwina Currie's diaries got in the way of their carefully orchestrated plot to unsettle, and ultimately unseat, the current party leader, Iain Duncan Smith. John Major landed the first punch with his attack on the leader's handling of the Iraq affair, then was floored by revelations about his big blue pants.

Ken Clarke's naked ambition has never been more repulsively on display than when he was commenting on the Tory conference for the BBC. It is stomach-churning even to contemplate how big Clarke's pants must be. Certainly as sizeable as his ego.

May punched way above her weight at the conference and surprised many, myself included, with a passionate and brave speech condemning the bigots within her party. But the sanctimonious Clarke attacked her maiden speech as chairman, saying it was conceivable, just, that she would one day make the great charismatic speech. She was, he said, the kind of woman the Tory party liked, a competent local chairman type.

Best and worst appointments - the hiring of former TV executive David Liddiment adds to the Guardian's already unquestioned dominance of the media market place. Very different is the impact made by Tina Brown's new Times column, which has so far been a great disappointment. You know there's a problem when a columnist has to pause every few words to explain who the people she's being wittily bitchy about actually are. It might as well be a column from Kosovo for all the interest it holds for us here.

Fuelled by a report in The Business, rumours continue that the Daily Mirror's parent company, Trinity Mirror, will be sold. And although one cannot take too seriously the daily doom reports in the Sun, executives at the Mirror are concerned that the redesigned tabloid will now not be given the year-long trial period.

The transition from red top to black top was never going to be easy, but what has crippled the venture is the disastrous decision to start a price-cutting war with Rupert Murdoch. Unable to sustain the cut from 32p to 20p nationally, and haemorrhaging sales against a 10p Sun and Star, the Mirror raised its price everywhere except London and the south-east.

Paradoxically, its success as every broadcaster's red top has meant it is being held up and displayed daily on TV newspaper reviews. The Tony Blackburn front page was the last straw for many. Readers in the north, the title's traditional heartland, responded furiously to seeing the paper discounted to 20p for their soft southern comrades, and sales have fallen even further.

What a shame it would be if this gutsy redesigned Mirror were to go under because of the incompetence of its management and the sheer stupidity of starting a price war it could never win.

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