The Conservative conference is a superb opportunity to be reminded of what a bunch of oddities the Tories are. Out come the overgrown school spods like Oliver Letwin, whose childhood was surely one long bogwash. Out come superannuated Billy Bunters like Nicholas Soames, practically a caricature of a 19th Century, gout-ridden Tory landowner from the Shires. And look, delegate
Jeremy Hunt has decided to sing the theme to Dad's Army with anti-EU lyrics! (More of which later.)
The Tories aren't exactly the sort of people you'd want to be stuck on a desert island with. Howard, Redwood, Liam Fox and Theresa May are pretty unappealing individuals, but they look as jolly and erudite as Stephen Fry compared with the legions of grim-faced 'red tape' obsessives who seemed to have taken over this year's conference. The latter have probably got some sort of point, but you get the feeling that if they weren't busy moaning about the EU, they'd be claiming that chimney sweeping teaches 11-year-olds self-discipline.
But perhaps the most striking thing about the Tories' latest conference was their ability to shoot themselves in the feet. At times it looked as though the speakers were competing for The Worst-argued Conference Speech, 2004.
Take Oliver Letwin. He got the ball rolling by claiming that Labour had created a 'new kind of politics', ie. big government. How do we know? Because the Department of Work and Pensions employs more people than the army.
Well, so what? It's not World War II, and the DWP isn't just Job Centres. The DWP oversees a huge sector of the economy, which has to be regulated. The DWP, lest we forget, has responsibility for making sure all of us busy little workers are registered to pay tax. Without tax revenue, you don't have government in any meaningful sense.
Letwin went on to cite more feeble examples of the 'new politics' of big government, which is in cahoots with Brussels. 'A woman found her rubbish was being collected half as often as before,' said Letwin. For some ill-explained reason this was the fault of the EU.
Now, call us rock and roll rebels here at TFT, but we're just not that bothered about how frequently our rubbish is collected, just so long as it gets taken away eventually. OK, crap refuse collection is bad, but surely this is just about making sure local councils deliver their services properly, not a burning national issue?
Speaking of rubbish, Letwin also used the hackneyed oratorical trick of endlessly repeating a key phrase, in this case 'Is that social justice?' As we all know, the Tories have a fine track record on social justice, if you forget about record unemployment, hiving off public services to help their mates in the City get rich, the growing gap between rich and poor that continued under various Conservative governments, and so on.
Giving the example of young people trying to buy a home, Letwin asked: 'Should a young person be clobbered with £600 of stamp duty? Is that social justice?'
No! It's not! Especially if you live in Tory la-la land. If you're a young person trying to buy a house in 2004, you've got more to worry about than £600 stamp duty. You might be a little more concerned about being stuck on a salary of £20K and having to raise £180,000 to buy a shoe box in Croydon.
Letwin had obviously decided that the best way to bash Labour was to blame every ill on big government. 'We can pin down this fat government... we can give taxpayers value for money!' he squeaked. 'I will freeze civil service recruitment!' Go back to your constituencies and prepare to employ slightly fewer Job Centre Plus staff!
The question is whether this really cuts much ice with the voters. Noone likes to think our taxes are being squandered, but who are these legions of unnecessary civil servants? Given the lack of examples to support his arguments, Letwin's speech would probably have been a 'U' at GCSE.
Finally Letwin took careful aim at his toes and pulled the trigger. 'The sad truth is, when we were in office, we made promises on tax we couldn't keep!' he said. He then explained the Tories wouldn't institute a policy of keeping promises, but instead would just not make promises in the first place. So, when all was said and done, what Letwin promised to do about tax was this: absolutely nothing. He got a round of applause for this, for some reason.
NEXT WEEK: TFT might sponsor an African child. Or we might not.
Other notable speakers included party chairman Dr Liam Fox, who spoke about that favourite Tory paper tiger, political correctness. Using a fairly unsavoury example, Fox claimed that we are no longer supposed to use the phrase 'gang rape' (which comes up in conversation all the time, we'll sure you'll agree). Instead we should say 'group rape'. This is, of course, political correctness gone mad.
But hang on a minute, Liam, WHO is preventing us saying 'gang rape'? The police? The government? The courts? Our boss at work? Bus drivers? Gabg rapists? Come to think of it, this is the first time we've heard of this particular bit of linguistic hair-splitting. In fact, it sounds like something that's been made up by the Sun or the Daily Mail. Still, it's obviously good enough for Liam Fox. Maybe he learned to be a doctor by watching M*A*S*H.
What was transparently obvious about the Tory conference is that the Tories just don't know where they're going. Because Labour has stolen so many of the Tories' clothes, they're having to invent paper tigers like big government and political correctness, then go crashing through the undergrowth after them. But if the Tories keep banging on about their obscure obsessions, they'll start sounding like the monomaniac weirdoes who write to local papers, ie.
'Sir. I am alone in thinking it would make good economic sense to fit solar panels to squirrels? I have long proposed a system of 'fauna power', but have yet to receive a reply from the local council...'
And at times it even looked as though even the delegates were having difficulty getting excited about the topics being discussed. Easily the most embarrassing speech of the conference came from a delegate called Jeremy Hunt, no pun intended, who started singing an anti-EU version of the theme to Dad's Army. No, we're not making this up.
'Who do you think you are kidding, Mr Blair?' he warbled. At one point he even sang something like: 'We are the ones who'll protect you from the EU'. He kept encouraging conference delegates to sing along, a bit difficult considering they wouldn't have known what the new words were.
They didn't. They just sat there looking embarrassed, probably dreaming hopeless dreams about a return to the heady days of Mrs Thatcher.
Who'd be a Tory?