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2 October 2008

Waiting for David

Who was the kung fu panda? What's a pillow menu? These were the questions keeping Tories awake at co

By Tara Hamilton-Miller

Tick after tock, the long, long wait for David Cameron’s speech began on Saturday night. Some of us had forgotten why we were here: surely another argument for conference duration to be halved. The Tories should lead the way next year.

In Birmingham we exist in a rather cosseted way. The exhibition centre has a small connecting bridge to the conference hotel, so it is quite possible to stay here for five days and not emerge outdoors at all. The outside world appears to be collapsing. Much safer in here with room service and friends.

Between Saturday and Tuesday at 11am, there was very little happening. Conference delegates were openly admitting to one another that they were quite bored. Everyone understood it was not going to be a wild, exhausting week this year – but, faced with rationed fun, the smallest hotel bar ever and only a small dose of Boris to look forward to, Tories can get irritable. Below, the highlights of the first few days.

Sunday evening in the hotel’s packed, six- people-deep bar “Pravda”: An overweight, bearded moron claimed to the mild-mannered press officer Ramesh Chhabra that he had been jostled. Fatso erupted at Chhabra with a string of expletives, yelling that he was going to “*%!*7 your %£!~** face”. The listless bar mass thought this was the start of something. Cool as a cucumber, Chhabra sighed, yawned, then ordered two Diet Cokes and a gin. Show over.

A conference organiser was overheard remarking how pleased she was that the trendy exposed plumbing vents in the hall “match the party’s branding colours”. “And all completely by chance,” she added chirpily.

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Sarah Palin hairdo count: six. (Harder than it looks: you need at least three children passing you kirby grips)

There was a potential meltdown when Cadbury’s, which had put bulging goody bags of chocolate in the hotel rooms, ran into a spot of bother. On Monday, as bored delegates munched bars of Bourneville, the evening news reported 50,000 ill from Cadbury’s chocolate. It was then reported that this was in Taiwan. Excitement over. Have another Fruit and Nut bar.

Sunday evening: A speaker called Nick Bourne appeared on stage with a large comedy Elastoplast over one eyebrow. He apologised to the audience for looking like “Kung Fu Panda”. Heartened by the sympathetic laugh he received, he went on to explain it was because of a “shower incident” the previous week. Nobody bought this. He should have left it at the panda gag.

“Boris”: At the mere mention of his name, the party faithful sit up straight, exchange knowing looks and beam with joy. When he spoke on Sunday it was impossible to find a seat. Political editors and Johnson’s own team fought to get into the hall. Sitting in the gods, looking on proudly, were his mayoral campaign press officers Katie Perrior and Jo Tanner. They looked like hopeful parents watching their Tourette’s son in a Nativity play.

Monday evening: MP in packed bar (Pravda again) complained that the adult entertainment film in his hotel room was rubbish. Had he watched it? No, but he had seen the first free 30 seconds they allow and concluded it wasn’t going to be a good one.

Some delegates were left confused at a central Birmingham boutique hotel. On check-in, they were offered a “pillow menu”. Many thought this would be something rude. It wasn’t – it was literally a menu of pillows. Housekeeping confirms that Nine out of Ten Tories prefer duck-down.

Monday am: Conservative Home’s Jonathan Isaby approached the glorious Ed Vaizey MP to compliment him on his smart polka-dot tie. “Thank you,” Vaizey replied. “It was a gift from Michael Gove.” Labour, take note: this is a party in unison; they stand together, they buy presents for one another. David Miliband should buy Gordon some gloves or a scarf.

Sarah Palin hairdo count: six. (Harder than it looks to achieve. You need at least three free-range children passing you kirby grips.)

Even though there were great speeches from Boris, knockout delivery from Liam Fox and a measured address by Michael Gove, it did not feel like a conference until it emerged that Cameron was going to make a short statement on the economy on Tuesday morning.

Before he came on, the pin-ups Jeremy Hunt and Grant Shapps entered the buzzing hall, strutting in time to the Girls Aloud track “Call the Shots”. The atmosphere was building. News that Hunt may or may not be engaged to “a Chinese girl” has certain members of Conservative Future weeping, ripping up Bride Magazine and wailing: “It could have been me.” (A bit like in 1969 when Paul McCartney married Linda.)

Cameron appeared with no fanfare. The speech was short, to the point and rather moving. He nailed it: David looked like the big guy. He took the long way off the stage, walking back, then left, taking his time. He needed to make this speech. In these terrifying times, the delegates knew they had chosen the right leader and they had faith: the standing ovation he received was based on trust. But will those not in this bizarre conference ecosystem feel the same?

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