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Cosy chats on the sofa but no kiss and tell

Organisers of the Tory party conference had promised the education debate would be "a bit like the Richard Judy show".

And so it was. The stage was rearranged to resemble a television studio, and Tim Collins, the shadow education secretary, was plonked on a comfy white armchair in front of a coffee table.

He was joined by his counterpart for health, Andrew Lansley, and the event's host, TV presenter Mark Jeffries.

However, unlike the gaffe-prone Richard Madeley, there was never any threat that Mr Collins would say anything unscripted. And nor did any of the audience members, who were interviewed by the host with a roving microphone. This section of the show appeared to have been copied from Kilroy, although no Tory would admit any debt to the broadcaster-turned-stalwart of the UK Independence Party.

Indeed, Mr Collins launched an all-out attack on Robert Kilroy-Silk in his main speech, describing him as a socialist and, worse still, "a man who spent years fighting against Margaret Thatcher".

Mr Collins was so busy trying to convert UKIP members that he failed to mention schools at all in the final quarter of his talk on education.

But his attacks on Brussels - "If the French won't obey your daft laws nor will we!" - won him a standing ovation.

The shadow minister left the stage, beaming, to the sounds of "Your Game", a track from Will Young's latest album.

Attentive delegates would have recognised that this was the last album Mr Collins bought. It was a gift for his wife, he said, to calm traditional Tories who might be worried by his interest in the openly gay singer.

The bits of personal trivia were revealed in videos of shadow cabinet members which were shown repeatedly at the conference.

Other revelations from the education spokesman were that his political hero is Ronald Reagan and that the books he has read most recently are Patrick O'Brian's naval stories. But he flatly refused to divulge details of his first kiss.

Michael Portillo had urged Mr Collins to rethink his haircut and not let it damage his political career. In certain lights Mr Collins's triangular fringe makes him resemble the part-vampire child, part-werewolf Eddie Munster. But Mr Collins is unfazed by such interest in his coiffure. He is also not frightened by Michael Howard's threat to sack any members of his cabinet who fail to deliver. Why? Mr Collins smiles conspiratorially, then replies: "Because I suggested it."

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