Dave’s dye and Pickles’s pie

To Birmingham for the Tory jamboree, where I discover that Citizen Dave has been at the hair dye again. Grey flecks on the temples of the people's toff were miraculously absent. Cameron must be the first premier to look younger in a job notorious for ageing the holder. Cameron once asked the Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell why he draws him with a condom on his head - minus the teat, after it was ruled too rude by the prudish editor. Bell answered that it's because baby-faced Cameron's skin is so smooth. Citizen Dave was satisfied. Grauniad comrades, however, suggest the condom head is because Lefty Bell thinks Cameron's "a bit of a knobber".

Iain Duncan Smith, hammer of the poor, looks as glum as the coalition Lib Miserable, Vince Cable. The former army captain is feeling the strain of being No Work and Pensions Secretary. An informant muttered Captain Cuts is sometimes physically sick before big occasions.

Displaying no sign of nerves is Eric Pickles. The Tory dumper truck behaves as if self-doubt is for human-sized people. The upside of Big Eric threatening to sack one in four civil servants is that your correspondent's mobile is busy, Whitehall officials regarding Two-Tonne Pickles as
a waist of space. A mole recounted the brash Communities Secretary declaring: "I'm not interested in research and evidence - I'm here to take decisions." Big Eric's not a minister to eat humble pie, unless it's served with chips and gravy.

The No 10 cold war worsens between Steve Hilton and Andy Coulson. Relations are so poor that Cameron tries to see them separately. That shouldn't bother Coulson. He's sure to have Hilton's number.

Criss-crossed by canals, Brum on a good day likes to think of itself as the Venice of the North. I suspect Venetians refrain from calling themselves the Brummies of the South, but the waterways gave the conference a Hoseasons edge. Messing about on the water were the dapper MP Bernard Jenkin and his wife, Anne, who stayed on a houseboat. The In-Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke, was careful with his cash. Checking in to the Hyatt Regency where the party's high command was billeted, Clarke demanded the cheapest room. Austerity starts at home, particularly when a cabinet minister's paying.

The magnificent, tiered Symphony Hall in which speakers rhapsodised from the official "Blame Labour" songbook didn't impress Newsnight's Jeremy Paxman. The BBC bruiser was tailed into the auditorium by a snout. "Bloody weird conference hall," Paxo muttered. "It's horrible." Memo to Paxo: Brummies love it. Apologise before you return to England's second city with the Lib Dems next September.

Kevin Maguire is associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 11 October 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Melvyn Bragg guest edit