Amanda Platell hears the Tories on their first kiss

The cabbie asked Norman Lamont: "Are you famous?" And he said: "I was, once"

The Tory party conference was a courageous affair this year in Bournemouth, a triumph of hope over expectations. It began with perhaps the most misguided video in recent political history - "The First Kiss" or "The Kiss of the Vampires", as it was later dubbed. This was a pathetic attempt to make the shadow cabinet seem like normal people, asking them questions such as when they had their first kiss (although failing to ask the most pertinent question - whether it was with a man or a woman), what was the most recent video they had bought and what they were currently reading and listening to.

For a moment, it seemed that Liam Fox was offering up Edward Scissorhands, but he stuttered and settled on the Scissor Sisters. PM-in-waiting David Cameron chose the very trendy and equally depressing Snow Patrol.

We do not choose our political leaders according to their bedtime reading nor, any longer, by their bedtime secrets. (If we did, David Blunkett would be out of a job.) We need shared values, not a shared love of Vivaldi, with our representatives. The whole exercise was so consummately cringe-making, that anything to follow was sure to look good.

Michael Howard's speech was good, very good - and not simply because he is the first leader of the Tory party to celebrate being a Jew. The most powerful section of a speech based on trying to restore trust was when he spoke of his love of Britain, where his father had sought asylum a half-century ago, because it was "the best country in the world". Was and could be again, Howard claimed. He said he owed this country his life and wanted to give back a tiny fraction of what Britain had given to him. And for the first time, for me at least, blood flowed through the bloodless one.

On my first night, I heard the buzzword of conference. A former Tory MEP who had lost her seat in the European election came up to me and said: "I've been Ukip'd, got my P45 from those traitors."

The traitors got their come-uppance the following day, however, when the Tory donor and multimillionaire Paul Sykes announced that he was withdrawing his support from Ukip.

Those who said the newly appointed Tory frontbencher Nicholas Soames was a bad advertisement for a party that seeks to be relevant to ordinary people would not have been surprised to read in the Daily Mail that he and the wealthy landowner Lord Hesketh consumed not one but three dozen oysters, followed by crab cakes and beef, at luncheon in Bournemouth. It was impolite to count the number of bottles of wine consumed.

That evening, Soames was back to consume even more plates of fresh oysters, leaving observers with only pity for his poor wife later that night.

And finally, though one should never trust cabbies when it comes to predicting election results, they are always good on what people are really like. One driver told me: "I've had that nice Norman Lamont here just yesterday. I couldn't place him at first, so finally I asked him: 'Are you famous?' And he said: 'I was, once.'"

This article first appeared in the 11 October 2004 issue of the New Statesman, The gambler