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Cameron Plans. Boris Broods. And The Conservatives Will Try To Own The Olympics Spirit Next Week. But The Audience Is Leaving The Political Theatre.

Last Updated: Friday, October 5th, 2012

The media likes to pick a winner from each conference season.  If it can’t quite do that, it will pick a loser instead.  This is what happened last year.  The Liberal Democrat conference was a feast of Tory-bashing – and thus successful in those terms – while Ed Miliband’s speech failed to catch fire.  The Conservative conference was quiet until the row about a cat.  (Remember that?  The question was whether ownership of a cat really did, as Theresa May claimed, have an effect on a deportation case.)  The Westminster Village conferred, and decided that the main event of the conference season had been the failure of Miliband.

A lot of water, not to mention the budget, has flowed under the bridge since then.  The Conservatives’ poll ratings have slumped and Mr Miliband’s speech to his conference this year has been judged a success.  The brief rally that David Cameron was enjoying before the conference season – his personal poll ratings were being compared favourably to Miliband’s – has dissolved post-Labour’s conference.  So what can David Cameron do to turn it all round? And – to finish with the most important question of all – how much does the conference season matter anyway?

It will be worth keeping an eye on the following:

* Boris’s behaviour: The Cameron/Boris psychodrama has gripped the imagination of the Westminster Village.  The Mayor thus has the potential to destabilise the conference, and most present, plus many outside, will be watching to see whether or not he does.  He has a big address to the conference on Tuesday morning and to a ConservativeHome rally on Monday evening.  Will he rally round, and bash Miliband, or off-the-cuff (or apparently off the cuff) say something that will pull at the rug beneath Cameron’s feet?

* Osborne’s speech: The Chancellor has had a terrible year: some budget measures were withdrawn after being announced, and the big Conservative poll drop followed the package as a whole.  Although there are some signs of recovery, the signals are mixed, and the economy still seems to be bumping along the bottom.  Furthermore, Osborne has no room for manoeuvre, and may be forced to drop his debt target in his autumn statement.  He always delivers a carefully-crafted speech – and needs to do so more than ever.

* Noises off: The critics were quiet at last year’s conference.  They will be less so this year.  David Davis and Liam Fox – who is turning up the temperature from the right – are both speaking on the fringe.  There will be interest in the Thatcher-flavoured views of the MP authors of “Britannia Unchained”, who are of the new generation that now make up half of the Parliamentary Party.  And after “Mitchell-gate”, Tory MPs had better be nice to policemen, ticket collectors, hotel staff – indeed, to everyone: the media will be on the watch.

Cameron’s aims will be to avoid or master these obstacles and get a message across.  Last year, he decked the party’s tree symbol in the red, white and blue of the Union Flag.  The year before, he approved a slogan that might have come from the Stanley Baldwinesque 1930s: In The National Interest.  So he has form in trying to project him and his party as one for the country as a whole.  “We’re all in it together,” he used to proclaim: expect him to try and project a patriotic flavour again, in the wake of the summer’s Olympics.

Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband both tried to bag some of the Olympic spirit for their own parties.  The Labour leader spoke under a Union Flag, and claimed that his party is the true party of One Nation.  Cameron will seek next week not only to rubbish that claim and laud the Olympics, but do something bigger: claim that “Britain Can Deliver”, in the words of the conference slogan, and try to identify his party with the country as a whole.  If he succeeds, he will perhaps go into the new political year with a basis for recovery.

But this only brings me back to the last question I asked – namely, how much does the conference season matter anyway?  If readers of this newsletter have time only to read one more article today, I urge those who have not yet done so to hunt down Fraser Nelson’s account of what happened when Labour politicians met real voters last week – and the picture it conveyed of the distance between the political class and the voters.  The politicians strut and fret on the stage of the conference season.  But much of the audience has already left the theatre.

By Paul Goodman



Lord Ashcroft: People need to hear that Conservatives will help them to succeed and won’t leave them on their own.  “Conservatives often think there are millions of people who are Tory in everything but their voting habits – people who work hard, want to get on in life, aspire to own their own home and perhaps build their own business. In trying to connect with them, we should be careful with the term “Conservative values”. For most people, particularly those who do not vote for us, working hard to do your best for your family is not a value that belongs to the Conservatives but a value that belongs to them. Tories need to show we share their aspirations and anxieties, not tell them they are on our side already if only they would realise the fact.” Read more:

Daniel Byles MP: Let’s implement the right regime for shale gas in Britain – so we can start seeing the benefits.  “The conclusion I draw from the most up to date evidence is that shale gas is likely to provide major benefits for the UK and, with the right regulatory regime in place, there is no reason to believe that it can’t be developed as safely as conventional onshore oil and gas. In an era of soaring domestic and industrial energy bills and rising fuel poverty, I don’t think we can afford to drag our feet over putting that regulatory regime in place and getting on with it. The Energy and Climate Change Select Committee will shortly be conducting a second inquiry into shale gas…I wonder if this time the committee as a whole will still conclude that shale gas won’t be a game changer.” Read more:

Paul Goodman imagines Benjamin Disraeli’s response to the Labour leader’s speech: “Miliband leads the No Nation party, not the One Nation party”.  “I once said that to tax the community for the advantage of a class is not protection: it is plunder.  I am not known, I believe, for a lack of felicity with language, but how taxing the community for the advantage of no class at all – other than a parasatical bureaucracy – can be described is beyond even my powers.  At any rate, it is clear that Mr Miliband’s party is an international, not a national one, since the essence of a national party is to seek to preserve or recover the self-government that makes nationhood possible.  It follows that his claim that Labour is the party of One Nation is the opposite of the truth.  It is the party of no nation at all.”

From ConservativeHome’s The Deep End: You are not a brain scan – challenging the rise of neurotrash.  “What is lacking in popular neuroscience is a sense of perspective. Whatever little scraps of correlation that might be gleaned from our measurements are floating on an immense ocean of deepest mystery. And, yet, this is the basis on which serious commentators and politicians – including some conservatives who really ought to know better – are beginning to make their arguments. At the heart of all of this, of course, are the intellectual forces of materialism. Having killed- off God (at least, to their own satisfaction), the abolition of the human soul is the next thing on their to-do list.”

Andrew Lilico: Ed Miliband is wrong – Retail and investment arms of banks need not split.
“To summarise, advocates of the separation of investment from retail banking activities dwell under the mistaken impression that retail banking is risk-free and that retail banks must be bailed out by the state.  In fact, retail banking is risky, and automatically bailing out retail banks that are legally separate from investment banks would create even more macroeconomic volatility than bailing out combined retail/investment banks.  The government should only be willing to bail out activities that are, from the government’s perspective, risk-free.” Read more:

Francis Davis: Gavin Barwell’s mental health bill is a brilliant start. But the Conservative Party must now go further. “Gavin Barwell’s bill shows that the social conscience of parliament is alive and well – not least when considered alongside the work of others like David Burrowes and Lord Carlile in the mental health arena. It shows that even at a time of fiscal rectitude there is space for specific innovations. And, most crucially, it offers a revolution of hope to those families who do not today have an MP or local decision-maker for whom these most vulnerable of citizens are yet a priority. If something socially revolutionary can happen from Croydon, why not elsewhere?” Read more:

John Baron MP: The Prime Minister is moving in our direction over an EU referendum.
“This week I finally received the Prime Minister’s reply to my letter of 27th June, co-signed by 100 Conservative MPs. In the letter, we called upon the Prime Minister to place on the Statute Book a commitment to hold a referendum within the next Parliament on the nature of our relationship with the EU…. In the past, the Prime Minister has always been careful not to rule out a referendum. This letter makes it clear that he has moved closer towards one. Of course, one can argue as to what “fresh consent” means – most people would take it as a referendum. Yet he didn’t use this term. This is a political turn of phrase to allow maximum room for manoeuvre. Further questions need to be asked.” Read more:

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