Every party needs a warm-up act. Just not one who looks like Bobby Davro, without the gravitas. Grant Shapps is a man with the unusual gift of making people believe the exact opposite of what he is saying; not a quality that is normally on the job description for a Conservative party chairman.
“First, I want to address the events of the last 24 hours,” he said in his opening address. The audience waited and waited and waited for him to explain how Brooks Newmark’s paisley pyjamas happened to fall open. Or at least for him to make a knob gag. But that, like the ex-minister, was considered unsuitable for civil society.
Maybe it just slipped his mind, as what Shapps most wanted to talk about was the defection of Mark Reckless to Ukip. “He lied and he lied and he lied,” he said. “We have been let down by somebody … who said one thing and then did another.”
As Shapps once operated under the aliases of both Michael Green and Sebastian Fox when promoting his internet business, you’d have thought he might have had some sympathy for a man with an identity crisis. But the new caring Conservatism only extends so far.
With just a pause for breath and a delayed smattering of applause, Shapps adopted a new persona of his own. “We will not waver. We will not be blown off course. We will finish the job we started …” The schoolkids who had been dressed up like extras from a 1940s B-movie in RAF pale blue and union jacks started to fidget awkwardly, but for a brief moment, in his own mind if no one else’s, Shapps was Winston Churchill.
Just when it seemed as if his delusions had peaked, Shapps produced another rabbit out of the hat. Saving Scotland from independence had been a gesture of pure altruism as the Tories only had one Scottish MP. If only we had none, he implied. That wish is likely to be granted.
Still the madness continued. Tory coffers were being filled by pensioners tearfully giving away their last 20p coins and schoolchildren donating their pocket money. The prime minister playing tennis with Russian oligarchs was mere chicken feed. Shapps didn’t even work as comedy.
Old Hague pension
Small wonder William Hague has decided to call time on his parliamentary career. When he first spoke at a Conservative party conference in 1977, he was just 16 and looked 12. He is now 53 and looks 10 years older.
In his final conference speech he said all the right things to ensure a Last Night of the Proms reception, but there wasn’t much fire. He looked as though going through the motions was the best he could manage. “I’ve watched the Labour party for 26 years in parliament,” he said. “In all those years I’ve never seen a frontbench worse, weaker or more woeful.” It sounded as though his own colleagues were included in that assessment.
Future conferences will be a great deal duller without him and the Tory party will have to scrabble around to make up the IQ deficit. But Hague promised he wouldn’t be stepping aside completely. With or without Brangelina, he would leave no village fete, no Rotary club, unturned over the next five years in his desire to paint England blue. It will be life, William. But not as you know it.
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