Issue 191 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published November 1995 Copyright © Socialist Review
Those of you who witnessed the 1995 Tory conference may have thought it a bad, sad and rabid affair. But it is easy now to look back on it as a model of liberal tolerance compared to this, the 1996 conference.
With the election just around the corner, the Tories have seemed a sorry lot at this year's affair in Dover. Dover was chosen of course to conjure up memories of Dunkirk, Bluebirds and Dame Vera Lynn.
Yet this desperate attempt to keep up the flagging spirits, as defeat at the hands of the 'Blairite Bolsheviks who've stolen all our policies' looms large, has gone horribly wrong.
I begged the editor of this magazine not to send me to the conference, as wounded wild eyed Tories can be a very dangerous lot. But she insisted, claiming no harm would come to me, whilst opening up the obituary file on her PC.
So here goes my report. The conference started brightly with Brian Mawhinney conjuring up visions of El Alamein, the Normandy Landings and, for reasons best known to himself, the Battle of the Boyne.
His audience of blue rinse pensioners and young, wild eyed, chinless wonders loved it. How they laughed at his wonderful joke about Blair being no Oasis, rather a mirage. How wildly they stomped when he denounced the loony lefts of Hackney Council who had given a grant to a group calling itself Bisexual Indian Affairs.
Unfortunately for the good doctor, no sooner had he finished speaking than journalists began haranguing him. It seems someone at Tory HQ had misheard what the name of the organisation was. Instead of Bisexual Indian Affairs, it was actually called Bicycle Engine Repairs and was, in fact, a government sponsored youth training scheme.
The happy Tories of yesterday were now looking rather down. But their favourite son was to address them today and before that a special treat--yes, she who was responsible for everything good about the 20th century was to appear on the platform.
Unfortunately the appearance was not quite what was expected. As the hall fell silent in thrilled anticipation, up stumbled the old girl, bottle of gin in one hand, bottle of whisky in another, singing, 'All for the money, I did it all for the money,' and shouting incoherent babble about, 'if you want to get a gun, see my boy Mark'. Worse followed when she responded to Major's kiss on the cheek by lunging at him with the whisky bottle, missing his head by inches.
Perhaps these disastrous events caused Portillo to do what he did. He must have known something special was required to lift the spirits of the faithful, but try as he might his usual party piece just wasn't enough. There was all the usual stuff--visions of Monty, the heroism of the forces, the baiting of Brussels.
When this failed to get them orgasmic he departed from his written text and uttered the now famous words, 'Let me assure you that if there is any attempt to force us into a single European currency I, as defence secretary, will not hesitate to order the bombing of Brussels, the invasion of France and a nuclear strike against the Germans.'
Suddenly the hall was alive. The chinless were standing on their seats stomping, while the blue rinses were enthusiastically knitting balaclavas and the retired generals were turning positively purple with joy. Yes, their Michael had saved the day, turned the conference, and now they would surely win the election.
Unfortunately, outside the Dover madhouse the rest of humanity took a different view and demanded the sacking of this power-crazed maniac, the French muttering darkly that they knew their nuclear testing would come in handy.
Briefly it seemed that some respite was coming Portillo's way when the president of the US was said to be backing him, until it turned out the president in question was in fact the long retired Ronald Reagan, a self confessed sufferer of Alzheimer's disease.
The next day it fell to Michael Heseltine to rally the troops to try and recover something from the disaster. And it has to be said that he was doing rather a good job until... it was a very obscure joke, anyway. It involved Tony Blair and a duck, and it required Heseltine to waddle three times round the podium. Unfortunately, as he went round the third time he suddenly clutched his chest and fell to the floor.
'The greatest prime minister we never had,' ran the obituary in the Telegraph the next day.
But it was left to John Major to try to pick something out of the wreckage. 'This has been the week that has turned British politics,' he told his audience. 'Blair is finished. We are on our way to five more years in government. People used to laugh at my father when he said his business was booming, but he had the last laugh because it kept booming until it went bust. He was a Tory with all the inventiveness that comes with being a Tory. Just how many garden gnomes did a socialist like George Orwell ever make? Oh yes!'
As he finished this masterful and highly personal speech, on came the music. They rose as one to show all was well, bellowing 'Land of Hope and Glory'. But some evil Trotskyist had switched the record to 'The Lunatics Have Taken over the Asylum'.
It's a funny old world.