The leader’s speech is the main event of the conference but let’s not expect it to transform anything – for all the media attention, most people will barely register it. But it matters because it helps set the tone and priorities of our campaign, and how we are going to respond to our opponents. As I’ve said before, we need to show competence and grip. People need to know we understand their struggles, but the answer isn’t to offer a series of goodies that could have come straight from Santa. Being in optimistic mood, I have high hopes that the PM will get it right.
Boris was on ebullient form at ConHome’s event talking about London’s success. The murder rate, he reported, is at its lowest in the capital since 1969, and is now half that of Brussels (“what on earth is going on there? Are the ladies bumping off their husbands with poisoned profiteroles?”)
His drive to attract new business is impressive – Bozza-riffic, as the introductory video had it. “The 2020 Vision for London – written by me! – is a Michelin guide for the salivating investor.” We can’t let Labour in to take us back to the 70s. “What is a Milisecond? The time it takes for Ed Miliband to follow the instructions of Len McCluskey. What is a Milimetre? The maximum distance he will allow himself to deviate from the policies of Unite. What is a Milipede? Well, a sort of very left wing insect, obviously.”
Some fascinating insights at the Ministers and Mandarins debate hosted by ConHome and the Institute for Government. Nick Herbert, who has been a minister in the Home Office and the Justice Department, talked about the “fiction of accountability”: since ministers cannot appoint, sack or move any of the thousands of civil servants in their departments, they cannot really be responsible for the day-to-day minutiae – so nobody is. Departments can be very competitive, he said, with bizarre results. “Ministers are always having to write to colleagues, demanding action. Michael Fallon was a minister in two departments, and he wrote to himself. And he replied.”
The Taxpayers’ Alliance meeting entitled “Why Are Left Wing Activists Being Funded With Your Taxes?” included some alarming examples. Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said he admired Tony Blair and Gordon Brown for the ruthlessness with which they pursued their political agenda, funnelling taxpayers’ money to trade unions, appointing Labour supporters to quangos and allowing public bodies to lobby for more money. Before the election, he said, the Audit Commission had hired a public affairs company “to ‘combat the activities of Eric Pickles’. Surely one of the least successful lobbying campaigns of all time.” He was tackling the practice of employing full-time union officials at public expense. This was widespread in local councils: “They told me it was because they wanted to keep up a happy relationship. But there comes a time when you have to stop paying the Danegeld.” Good stuff.
A couple of blush-making tweets yesterday from apparent admirers: “Spotted you looking your usual dashing self at ConHome,” says one, in what must surely be a case of mistaken identity. And another: “With the handsome @LordAshcroft at @ConHome fringe on how to win a majority in the next election”. No mistaken identity here, as she has added a photo. Should have gone to Specsavers… I was brought down to earth later by a tweet from Michael White of the Guardian: “Are you still in Manchester? Am trying to find you if free”. Oh dear. What have I done now?