Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Rigor Mortis Smiles: The Prospect of a Snap Election Has Injected Some Steel into Tories, as Tara Hamilton-Miller Reports from Blackpool

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Rigor Mortis Smiles: The Prospect of a Snap Election Has Injected Some Steel into Tories, as Tara Hamilton-Miller Reports from Blackpool

Article excerpt

It's 4am and, standing outside the Imperial Hotel in Blackpool, the Tory delegates are animated, drinking champagne. It's been an odd few days to decipher. After weeks of speculation about the state of the party they have made the soul-destroying trip to Blackpool to mingle, eat very little and drink a lot. The talk is of possible election dates, how bad the food is and relief they will not return to Blackpool.

The throng, sipping pink Taittinger, are of all ages and are determined to have a good time. It's what Tories do best. An exhausted broadcaster who has covered all three conferences observes: "There is no doubt that the Tories know how to enjoy themselves. They are smarter, younger, funnier, sexier and better dressed."

For about 12 years, the right has gathered every year in a seaside town to misbehave--four days of playground tittle-tattle during which even the most reasonable of local councillors can be dragged into a personality assassination of the latest leader. The Conservatives are used to it now. They have perfected the dewy-eyed standing ovation for someone they will knife the next day, no one knows why. Longing for Margaret? Boredom? Guilt about Hague?

This year is different. Cameron's MPs, opinionated Tory grandees and irritable grass-roots members have put any less-than-loyal mumblings on hold. Could it be they have finally caught on to the idea of unity? The possibility of an election and the good behaviour of the likes of Alan Milburn and Peter Mandelson at the Labour conference have convinced the troublemakers to curb their conduct. Even the usually loathsome weather has behaved.

Tories wander around commenting about how fine everything is, how confident the mood is. Faces have a slight rigor mortis smile to them; delegates go from speech to fringe meeting with a dazed look, like those in the final pages of Patrick Suskind's Perfume. Brows remain unfur-rowed and faces calm, as if the entire horde at the Winter Gardens had been botoxed to within an inch of its life.

On Sunday evening, Cameron's speechwriting team of Steve Hilton and Danny Kruger were ensconced in the leader's suite at the Imperial. The first draft was too long at 12,000 words, so they were up into the early hours meticulously slashing it. "The danger is you have to cover everything without making it look like a shopping list, but you don't want to lose the theme," said an aide. By Monday evening, a strategist said the speech was written, noting: "This is not a manifesto. It's about so much more than just the text--it's about the delivery. Dave gave an electrifying delivery two years ago." And yet Cameron himself recalls that same speech with less enthusiasm, telling a close friend recently: "It wasn't that good. …

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