KEITH NEWBERY It’s behind you! Panto-time starts early for Tories

Party conferences have long been regarded as the early start of the pantomime season.

All the familiar characters are there – including a few fairy queens and some Baron Hardup impersonators.

The ugly sisters were easily outnumbered by the ugly brothers at the Labour shindig, while all parties had a few ingénues wandering wide-eyed and innocent through the deep, dark woods of political chicanery.

But it was the Conservatives who deserved a special BAFTA for panto of the year, with their splendid version of Puss in Boots.

It all began when Theresa ‘Dandini’ May produced a shrieking, thigh-slapping denunciation of the Human Rights Act. “Why,” she told delegates, “there is one illegal immigrant who cannot be deported because – and I’m not making this up – he has a pet cat.”

It was at this point the audience should have begun shouting ‘he’s behind you’, as the menacing bulk of Uncle Abanazar (aka Kenneth Clarke) hove into view.

The justice secretary is a man whose burbling avuncularity has always masked a ruthless and surprisingly ambitious streak.

He distracts people with a sly smile and a distinctive death chuckle while slipping the stiletto between the shoulder-blades of fellow politicians – and he’s not fussy which colours they happen to represent.

He and the home secretary ostensibly belong to the same party, and between them are responsible for all matters concerning law, order and criminal justice in this country.

But the disparity in their personal credos is as great as any between Lib Dem and Conservative members of the Cabinet – which made their appointments so puzzling in the first place.

May has always been on the right of her party while Clarke would snuggle up happily with his new-found colleagues in the Liberal Democrats.

So why would any Prime Minister force two such diametrically-opposed politicians to work in close proximity in departments which can win or lose elections?

Well, a more mischievous hack than I might be tempted to suggest David Cameron did it deliberately. After all, May is a convenient sop to the right in her own party, while Clarke’s soft-left tendencies help to keep the Lib Dems quiet.

Meanwhile, the rest of us are left hanging in the wind as we wait to see what direction they will eventually take.

* Truth is the most valuable resource

Party conferences these days are turning into the battle of the politikids.

Last week we had 16-year-old Rory Weal (son of a millionaire property developer) extolling the virtues of the welfare state when his family had nothing left but a £300,000 substantial semi in Maidstone.

This week it was the turn of 17-year-old Quddus Akinwale to inform delirious delegates how his life had been transformed when his failing inner city school was turned into a flagship academy.

It meant he had avoided the depredations of the gang culture and now harboured hopes of becoming an engineer.

His story was genuinely inspiring because it contained that vital component so unfamiliar to many politicians of any age – the unspun truth.