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The Tories Leave Birmingham With A New-Found Confidence

Last Updated: Friday, October 3rd, 2014

No-one knew quite what to expect when the Conservative family gathered in Birmingham on Sunday. Mark Reckless had just delivered the second UKIP defection blow in as many months, and Brooks Newmark’s indiscretions were causing embarrassment (though less existential questions for the party).

If anything, observers might have expected a depressed conference mood.

Instead, though, the bad press served to galvanise the grassroots and parliamentary party alike. The mood was combative – from the Prime Minister, who toured fringe events giving tubthumping speeches before his formal address, through MPs, who were more bullish than they have been for quite some time, to the party members, many of whom are preparing to go to Rochester and Strood.

Ironically, much of that was thanks to Mark Reckless. He lied about his intentions and timed his announcement to maximise the damage and disruption to his old party. In doing so, he made the partisan element of his decision clear.

Whereas Douglas Carswell’s departure was greeted with more sorrow than anger, Reckless’ choice to jab his former colleagues in the eye has woken the Tory bulldog. The party leadership believes its machine can beat him in the forthcoming by-election, and intends to throw everything it has got at the fight.

Whereas Clacton is mostly given up as lost, Rochester and Strood is thought to be less fertile ground for UKIP, and the man himself is a less able politician than Carswell. If there’s a chance to stop the purple bandwagon, then Shapps and co intend to take it.

The content of the Prime Minister’s big speech raised his party’s morale even further. Issuing personal challenges to Miliband and his team, tough talk on the NHS and pledges of lower taxes, for the first time Cameron spoke as much to his party in the room as to voters at home.

The contrast between his performance and that of the Labour leader last week was stark, and the Tory media team followed it up with a near-clean sweep of newspaper front pages the next day.

All in all, David Cameron’s ninth conference as Conservative leader left Tories feeling positive about their prospects in May. Today’s YouGov poll, giving the party its first lead in 20 months, will build the feeling still further.

And yet, and yet. The electoral realities are still stacked against us. Unequal boundaries give Labour a huge in-built advantage, regardless of whether Miliband can remember the deficit. UKIP can still stop dozens of Conservatives becoming MPs by scooping a few thousand votes here and there, even if they don’t win any seats.

So the new optimism in Tory hearts is about to come up against some serious hurdles. The next few weeks will give some signs of whether it will overcome them.

By Mark Wallace



Paul Goodman: Grayling takes the Conservatives to the brink of ECHR exit – a giant step away from Europe  ‘Grayling’s proposals aren’t very brave: were they so, he would have announced that a Conservative Government would simply quit the Convention and Court.  But they are extraordinarily bold – a flash of lightning from out of the blue.’ Read more:

Mark Wallace: Mark Reckless follows Carswell and defects to UKIP  ‘Daniel Hannan is now the last of the ‘Three Musketeers’ left in the Conservative Party – at Reckless’ wedding Hannan was Best Man while Carswell was an usher; at Hannan’s wedding, Reckless was his Best Man; Hannan and Carswell are godfathers to each others’ children. There could be no starker illustration of the divide on the Right than the three finding themselves in competing parties.’  Read more:

Mark Field: The limitations of raising tax thresholds   ‘To put it bluntly, those earning below the threshold at which income tax kicks in have little incentive to support lower rates for those paying it. The larger that group the more difficult it will be for us as Conservatives to make a convincing, credible, widely appealing case for lower taxes.’ Read more:

Tim Montgomerie: Are press cheerleaders for Cameron’s tax cuts being fiscal hypocrites?   ‘The Prime Minister has made Conservative promises that he has refused to make before. He’s done so because of the threat of UKIP. They are risky promises. Risky because they do endanger the Tory reputation for fiscal seriousness. Dangerous because they don’t much help the Tories’ “party of the rich” problem.’ Read more:

Rebecca Coulson: I’m not defined by being a woman   ‘I’m from the North East, but do I (not least because our immediate world is increasingly global) need to define myself as North Eastern? I’m a Conservative – and I’m certainly into the practical application of strongly-held views – but does this define me? I’m also British, white, self-employed, Anglican, newly 29, and – yes – a woman.’ Read more:

Mark Wallace: EXCLUSIVE: Conservative Party membership has risen to 149,800 – up 11.7 per cent   ‘The increase of 11.7 per cent in a year will be hailed by Shapps as “the first rise in a decade”. It’s certainly welcome news that the lengthy and severe decline in party membership hasn’t just been halted, it’s now being reversed.’ Read more:


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