She had a dig at public health minister Tessa Jowell's alleged vanity - 'now I could understand it if she had my good looks'.

And she poked fun at Labour's Formula One fiasco: 'The Nanny State has decreed that tobacco is obviously so dangerous it can only be advertised on vehicles travelling at over 150 miles an hour.' That's one you may have read first in Monitor, incidentally (27 August).

Frank Dobson's supply of jokes was clearly rationed: just the one, about a wooden spoon award to complement the NHS Oscars: 'We haven't decided on the final name but the working title is the Virginia Bottomley medal.'

Delegate Mary Turner continued the well-worn theme: 'Remember Golden Virginia, who thought that an intravenous drip was a Tory MP? And she should know, she married one.'

Unlike Ms Turner, who attempted a lame crack in which a vision of Ms Widdecombe is a cure for chronic constipation, Simon Hughes left appearance out of it.

His quip, naming the Tory health team after Class A drugs, was much admired: Philip Hammond (believer in corporal punishment) Smack; Alan Duncan (libertarian on drugs) Crack; and 'The Blessed Ann' (Catholic convert) Ecstasy.