The last article was written on the eve of the Conservative Party conference in Blackpool; this is written on my return.
It was unlike any other Party conference; usually the delegates are told by the platform what is happening – where the Party is going, and why some apparently suicidal policies are the embodiment of commonsense. The power clearly rests with the people up there behind the microphones and the expensive bottles of water. Not this time. Most of those who spoke from the platform wanted to lead my Party. Those in the body of the hall would decide whom; and we knew it. The terms of trade had changed dramatically. We were like Cinderella waiting for the chap –and they were all chaps – with the right shoe to come along.
They gave me a series of conflicting messages. I was told I had got to change; I was out of touch and as relevant as yesterday’s newspaper. Then I was told to stop apologising and walk tall. At 6 ft 4, I found this injunction the easiest to obey and strode purposefully from the conference hall to respond to the first and get in touch – by collecting my emails.
Sky offer a facility for this in the Exhibition Hall. There is a bank of computers where you can log on. However, there are queues by each station and, while you can eventually read your emails, so can many others. I went out of the Winter Gardens to find an internet café. There are none in Blackpool. And there are none because Blackpool Corporation allows you to log on to the internet for as long as you want for free in comfort in the Central Library. I spent several hours in this hospitable establishment, to the annoyance of my staff who had hoped they would have a week free from instructions from the boss.
On the Monday, on arrival, I decided to avoid fumbling for change each time I got on the tram. I went in to a newsagent and bought a five day bus and tram pass for £15. Money well spent, I calculated, knowing how many journeys one has to make to get from fringe to fringe. On my first journey, I sat next to a colleague who also had a five day pass – but a different colour. I asked him where he got it, and he said they were giving them away free in the Conference Centre.
The week was well-spent, but this column is not the place to reflect on the qualities of the candidates for the leadership of my party.
My journey home by train took five hours, and I finished Su Doku in every newspaper that carries a puzzle, including those that carry three of them. This was made more difficult on the journey from Preston to Basingstoke, as there was a small but voluble child nearby whose mother would rebuke him, matching decibel with decibel. “Don’t you dare do that again”
With some relief, I left the train at Basingstoke to catch the South West Train to Andover. As I settled down in my seat, looking forward to some peace, there was a familiar sound from the seat behind. “Don’t you dare do that again.”