By Tim Montgomerie
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The Prime Minister was on confident form at last night's Carlton Club Dinner, speaking without notes and hesitation for fifteen minutes about the Government's record and the tasks it still faces. It was largely a private occasion so I don't think I should give a full report on what he said but his big message was that real progress was being made in clearing up Labour's mess. He emphasised the fact that the deficit had been reduced by a quarter and that the economy had created more than a million private sector jobs. Lord Bates, author of "The recovery IS underway", sat in the audience and nodded his approval.
Interestingly the PM ended his speech with a warning about party disunity. The party must not go back to the bad old days, he said. It was a sign that he is somewhat concerned at the rebelliousness that has infected the parliamentary party in recent weeks.
Joke of the evening went to Lord Feldman, however. The Coalition was sticking together, he said, for the sake of the children but while they might be under one roof, the two parties were in separate rooms! Let's hope the kids won't still need Nick and Dave to continue cohabiting once 2015 arrives.
The Carlton Dinner is always a wonderful occasion. I've been to four of a fundraising event that is now in its fourteenth year. It is special because it's largely a gathering of the party's most enduring supporters, rather than those who've signed up to the Tory bandwagon once we got closer to power. Leading lights of the Dinner – notably Richard Simmons, the founder; Lord Borwick; Kevin Morley; the wonderul Howard Leigh; and Howard Shore – were there helping the party in the leanest years of opposition.
People pay between £750 and £1,000 for every place at every table. Last night I think there were about 25 tables. Once you take in to account the costs of the event but also donations made in the appeal, this event should raise about £350,000 to £450,000 each year for the party's campaigning in target seats. That's what an expert fundraiser told me this morning when I asked him for an estimate.
Steve Barclay has been Chairman of the Organising Committee for five years, the last three years as an MP. An event like this – that normally goes unreported – is just one of the ways that MPs serve the party in quiet but very important ways. If my fundraising estimate is correct the Carlton Club has raised about £2 million for party funds under Steve's chairmanship.