So much younger then than now

Biddy Passmore

Is there such a thing as a young Conservative?

The question was prompted by a curious event in the middle of Thursday morning at last week's Conservative party conference. Called "Spotlight on the Young", it was not a debate, more a revivalist meeting.

First, the lights dimmed. Then music reminiscent of Chariots of Fire boomed out and slow-motion pictures of Sebastian Coe winning races appeared on the screen.

There followed the man himself in his more recent guise of Tory MP in dark suit. But he still looks youthfully slight and certainly seemed youthfully embarrassed as he half-raised an Olympic gold medal that had been concealed about his person.

As the member of the party's campaign team responsible for youth, he had been out and about finding all sorts of remarkable young people, he said. Those he was going to introduce to the conference were not exceptional.

Maybe not, but they certainly seemed a little unusual. Quite a few had reached middle age, if not literally then spiritually.

First came Claire Stowe, a 23-year-old "lecturer and enthusiastic sportswoman". While Seb Coe had been winning the gold in the 1500 metres in the Los Angeles Olympics, she had been winning the under-13 Athletics Club Championships at Huntingdon. "Children need to understand competitive games as life is competitive," she declared. Mr Blunkett and Mr Blair must not kick away the ladder of opportunity she had climbed, she said, adding: "We must not allow Labour to play with our future so let's fight for it".

She was followed by Shami Ahmed, who had launched the British jeans company Joe Bloggs at a tender age, after which Mr Coe climbed down from his rostrum and took his microphone among the young people.

One after another, they spoke of the opportunities the Conservative Government had given them that Labour would brush aside. From Amanda the Conservative councillor to Ashley the Bristol solicitor, from James Chau the sixth-former and concert pianist (all proceeds from his first album to charity) to Jason the Welsh physics student who's an Oxfam rep in his spare time: they were all virtuous and glib in equal measure, with scripts no doubt provided by Central Office.

The event was concluded by William Hague, the Justin Hinchcliffe de ses jours (except that he got to speak).

Now, 18 years after he first addressed a Conservative party conference at the age of 16, Mr Hague is the Welsh Secretary. He has even learned a word or two of Welsh.

Physically he is little changed, although the hair has receded from the temples and he presumably shaves now.

But was he ever really young?

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