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An honour to welcome the Prime Minister to the annual ConHome party with the 1922 Committee, which has become a regular feature on the conference agenda. It was especially good of her to turn up on her birthday – what better way to celebrate the occasion?

She was on tub-thumping form, and took the opportunity of reminding the audience that the implementation phase of Brexit (not a “transition period”) would last no more than two years. As well as a rousing cheer she was met with an uplifting chorus of ‘Happy Birthday To You’, boldly led (I can exclusively reveal) by Nigel Evans.

The event was generously sponsored by The City UK and Heathrow Airport, whose boss, John Holland-Kaye, she had met only recently: “When Philip and I were flying off on our summer holidays, the chief executive of Heathrow came and told us all about their future expansion. I suppose that’s what being Prime Minister is all about,” she said ruefully.

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While sympathetic to the view that Tory activists have often not been taken as seriously as they deserved, I had always been rather sceptical of the idea of having a party chairman elected by the members. Interestingly, Guido Fawkes informs us that at a fringe meeting of the Campaign for Conservative Democracy yesterday, the audience held a mock election for the position (for which there is, of course, no vacancy).

In first place, you will not be at all surprised to hear, was Jacob Rees-Mogg, with 28.6 per cent of the vote. But what’s this? In second place, “Lord Ashcroft: 20 per cent”. Hmm – only a 4.3 per cent swing needed. Maybe the idea has its merits. It is as well to keep an open mind on these things, isn’t it?

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Speaking of Guido, he was surprised by my revelation on Sunday that I had once been a taxi driver. That’s not all, I told him: among other things I’ve worked as a postman, a barman, and a swimming pool attendant.

I’m often accused of being born to privilege, but it’s not so. For me, social mobility and being a Conservative go hand in hand – it is tragic that the Tories have allowed ourselves to be seen as a party that wants to restrict opportunity rather than extend it.

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The General Election Review conducted by Eric Pickles (whose findings he discussed on ConHome) continues to receive much comment in Manchester. There is wide agreement that it’s a solid report, and its 126 recommendations a good basis for improvement.

But it set me thinking. If I commissioned someone to look at one of my companies and they came back with a list of 126 things that needed changing, the management of said company wouldn’t be there for much longer.

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It wasn’t so long ago that Boris Johnson was the star attraction of the conference. He would pack auditoriums, just as I’m sure he will when he speaks this afternoon.

But although he once again tops ConHome’s members’ poll on potential eventual successors to Theresa May, I detect a lessening of the adulation he once enjoyed. With so much at stake, there is little patience for anything that looks like self-indulgence.

Another regular theme here is the need for renewal. The new talent and ideas that began arriving on the Tory benches in 2010 is not yet being used to its full extent. Well before the next election, the Cabinet needs to – what shall we say? – evolve.

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There has been some anguish this week about the unpopularity of capitalism, and the apparent support for public ownership of utilities and railways shown in the recent research by the Legatum Institute.

But as Tim Montgomerie pointed out at a fringe meeting yesterday, Margaret Thatcher’s approach was not to treat politics as an “academic discipline” but to get on with things – unleash reforms that would boost economic growth and share the proceeds.

Ben Page of Ipsos MORI made a similar point at a separate meeting: “As a young pollster in 1989, I remember telling Nicholas Ridley that water privatisation was the most unpopular policy we had ever tested. He took a long pull on his fag and said, ‘Never mind. They’ll have forgotten all about it by next year’.”

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The Labour MP, Laura Pidcock, caused a stir recently with her announcement that when it came to Tories, “I have absolutely no intention of being friends with any of them.”

Fortunately, not everyone on her side takes such a blinkered attitude, and I have got to know many over the years. One such is Michael Dugher, who stood down as MP for Barnsley East at the election, and is at a Conservative conference for the first time in his new capacity as Chief Executive of UK Music.

It was fun to catch up in such surroundings. He’s a great loss to his party – though he looks as though he’s having more fun now.

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Did I mention that I have a new book out? If you are in Manchester and have inexplicably omitted to buy The Lost Majority from the Blackwell’s bookstall, come along between 10 and 11 o’clock this morning and treat yourself to a signed copy.

I can’t help but notice that at the end of my session the signing seat is to be filled by the BBC’s Evan Davis, the subtitle of whose book is “Why We Have Reached Peak Bullshit And What We Can Do About It”. I am assured the scheduling does not reflect the organisers’ judgment upon my work. Reviewing it on ConHome at the weekend, Andrew Gimson described its “tactless lucidity”. I’ll take that.

10 comments for: Lord Ashcroft’s conference diary: Revealed – the MP who led the singing of Happy Birthday to the Prime Minister

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