Earlier this week we published the latest results from the ConservativeHome Members’ Panel. Findings included news that only 6% of Tory members think that the A-list includes the most talented candidates in the Conservative party. Here are the Panel’s September rankings of the shadow cabinet’s top ten portfolio holders and my assessment of how each performed in Bournemouth…
David Davis (latest net rating +72, down 9 on July but only down 2 on January). The Shadow Home Secretary has impressed over the last year because of his public loyalty to the man who defeated him for the Tory crown. For the fourth month in a row he remains the shadow cabinet minister with the highest satisfaction rating amongst grassroots Tories. This week in Bournemouth Mr Davis delivered a workmanlike speech but his message on prisons will have most helped the Tory leader with the right of the party.
Liam Fox (+44, up 3 on July but down 11 on January). Liam Fox’s main platform speech was a little long but, by all accounts, he wowed a fringe event held by Conservative Friends of Israel with a passionate defence of Israel’s right to defend itself from hostile neighbours. He also gave one of the most substantial addresses of the Conference fringe. As reported here by Simon Chapman, the Shadow Defence Secretary analysed how the money we are spending on importing energy from nations like Iran and Russia is being used to arm our enemies.
William Hague (+56, up 1 on July but down 27 on January). The former Tory leader is still the best platform speaker in British politics and he did not fail to entertain his Bournemouth audience this week. The Tory faithful did not seem to mind that there was little substance to Mr Hague’s remarks. They loved Mr Hague’s humour and confidence and I expect the post-EPP-row dip in his approval ratings will be quickly reversed.
Andrew Lansley (+28, up 9 on July but down 12 on January). A very trim looking Mr Lansley enjoyed a good week. The NHS (alongside a commitment to marriage) was the central theme of David Cameron’s speech and that centrality was illustrated by the fact that the Shadow Health Secretary sat between Messrs Hague and Osborne during that speech. Expect Mr Lansley to get more and more profile over the coming months and read Andrea Leadsom’s interview with him here.
Oliver Letwin (+10, down 1 on July and down 26 on January). Mr Letwin did not have a good start to the week with his dispute with The Sunday Times about reported remarks on ‘no limits’ to private sector involvement in the NHS. I twice debated with Oliver on the fringe. He is the most Cameroonian of the Cameroonians with a heartfelt commitment to the new agenda but a disappointing lack of confidence in the importance of our party’s more recent policy positions on Europe, tax, immigration and crime.
Francis Maude (+2, down 3 on July and down 26 on January). Many blame Francis Maude for the accreditation chaos. I’m not sure that that’s fair. The Dorset police and CCO Conferences (a separate company whose contract is about to expire) probably share the real blame and I hope Francis will put some independent grassroots activists in charge of an enquiry into the accreditation problems. Overall Francis and his CCHQ ran a successful conference. Particularly worthy of highlight is head of presentation and events Nick Pisani. Mr Pisani, formerly of BBC1’s Question Time, orchestrated the look and feel of the conference, its interactive elements and the fact that the platform speeches from shadow cabinet ministers were generally shorter and punchier.
Theresa May (+3, down 1 on July and down 26 on January). Theresa wrote a blog for ConservativeHome during this week and chaired the ‘challenge the candidate’ sessions on the main stage. She became a fan of activists last year when she became a fierce defender of the members’ right to a vote in the leadership election but that status has faded as a result of her being an architect of the quota-based A-list.
George Osborne (+34, up 1 on July but down 34 on January). George Osborne had the best of the week because of his accomplished speech of Tuesday. He was fully in command of his brief and will have reassured some Tories who worry that he appears a little too ‘school-boyish’ to be put in charge of the nation’s finances. His speech also appeared to give a little more hope to those Conservatives who want to see tax cuts in the next Tory manifesto. It is vital that the party leaves itself room to be able to offer lower taxation. Today’s Telegraph front page and the agony caused by Gordon Brown’s stamp duty will be one of an increasing number of taxes-are-too-high stories. Just because tax was not decisive at the last three elections does not mean it won’t matter at the next.
Caroline Spelman (+16, down 5 on July and down 22 on January) and David Willetts (+33, up 9 on July but down 28 on January) both had quiet weeks.