Just before I vacate our little holiday chalet at the Ribby Hall Holiday Village (for more, read The Spectator Diary this week, which I penned yesterday) a couple of observations from the various fringe events and parties I went to last night.
* Gordon Brown's trip to Iraq has gone down like a cup of cold sick with the journalists here in Blackpool. They are as one in their outrage. Why? Because he very stupidly only took two broadcast journalists with him, and not a single dead tree scribe. Not a good PR move.
* Ben Brogan describes the conference as a "triumph" on his blog. I'll wait until David Cameron has sat down before going that far, but he is not alone in that. Several left of centre journalists I spoke to last night took a similar view and reckoned it was the best conference they have been to in years. They contrasted the high quality of the platform speeches here with those in Bournemouth last week.
* I didn't see IDS's speech but I am told it was a corker. I'm really pleased for him. He and I do not see eye to eye on everything but I so admire the work he has done on social justice issues and the passion with which has thrown himself into it.
* I spoke at a King's Fund Question Time style debate last night, along with Andrew Lansley and Barabara Pointon - the lady who took part in an ITV documentary which catalagoued her husband's slow death from Alzheimers. What a lady. I was asked to take part in this last week and first of all said no, as health is not one of my specialist areas. They then said that it worked really well in Brighton and Bournemouth having a non specialist on the panel. I asked who they had and they told me it had been Janet Street Porter (who demanded a limousine to transport her to and fro...) and Polly Toynbee. So, I said, I'm the Tory Polly Toynbee, am I? I've been called worse. On second thoughts... :)
* David Davis's speech gets a slating on ConHome and in The Sun this morning. I must have been watching a different speech. But then again, so I was in 2005, so perhaps I am not the best judge. My partner rang me last night (and he's no great fan of DD - doesn't like it when he answers the phone at home andwithout a greeting, DD just says "is he there?"!) raving about his speech - "best one I've heard", "Cameron will do well to better that" and "told it how it is" were just three of the things he said.
* I was astonished at the number of people who said they had seen me do my little speech on Rwanda. Whenever you speak at a conference everyone always tells you how well you had done, even if they don't mean it, so I take compliments on speeches with a pinch of salt. However, virtually everyone said that it really came from the heart and they were glad I managed to hold it together. Luckily I took out the one line which might have made me lose it.
* The second fringe I spoke at was put on the by the Hansard Society with the provocative question: 'Are political parties a waste of time?' I argued that they weren't but it's easy to see why they are regarded as such. Ed Vaizey and Peter Oborne had a running hour long spat of insulting each other while Theresa May and I came across as the voice of sweet reason. I think. Oborne's main argument centred aroiund the fact that MPs use political parties for their own ends. I hit back at this and pointed out that if that were true, the same argument could be used for journalists using newspapers for their own ends. He described politicians being a narrow political elite which few could break into. I replied that newspaper columnists were an even narrower elite which virtually no-one could break into. As I was saying it, I thought to myself "you're on dodgy ground here, mate". The audience laughed, and I then asserted that bloggers were now undermining the columntariat, something I think Peter Oborne might have nodded at. But then again, I might have imagined it.
UPDATE: Peter Oborne has emailed to say: "This description of our robust and enjoyable exchange is misleading. I did not respond to yr newspaper analogy by saying that politicians were ‘a narrow political elite which few could break into’. I responded that yr analogy was false. I said that the market system dictates that newspapers only exist in insofar as they can attract readers. By contrast, I noted, MPs (particularly the so-called modernizers) have a hostile and abusive relationship to party members which cannot be compared to the relationship between newspaper journalists and their readers." I don't think I misrepresented his words at all, but there you go.
* I was bought a present yesterday by Jonathan Sheppard's (Tory Radio) wife. Suffice to say she picked it up in a Blackpool tat shop. Also suffice it also to say I won't be putting a picture of it on here. I did, however, show it to several members of the Conservative Womens' Organisation, who seemed rather impressed by it, despite the fact that it didn't buzz. All I will say, is that it was an unusally shaped stick of rock. Ahem.