(1) This conference tipped the party a little closer to the balanced conservatism that ConservativeHome champions. David Cameron’s greener conservatism was on full show in Bournemouth this week but we also saw some reassurance for those conservatives who worry about crime and family breakdown. Yesterday’s news on prisons and tax relief for families was followed up in David Cameron’s speech with perfectly pitched messages on the causes of crime and the social significance of marriage.
(2) The announcements vacuum was dangerous. For much of the week the media beast had little to feed on. Without strong stories from the press office the media kept returning again and again to the tax row (see the reports of Graham Smith and Adrian Owens). We then had the completely ridiculous Times front page on Tories and loans-for-peerages – also eagerly headlined by Tuesday’s Today programme. Boris Johnson will always be news but the media scrum he generated on Tuesday was one of the few things to excite a bored press corps. David Cameron must move soon to strengthen his press operation.
(3) The tax cuts row. The Tory
leadership faced sustained pressure from small government conservatives
for a greater realisation of the economic consequences of Gordon
Brown’s high tax burden. They despair that there is no sense of
mission to pull Britain back up the competitiveness league table.
George Osborne’s very well delivered speech on Tuesday offered enough
hope to the tax-cutters (including The Telegraph) but this issue isn’t going to go away.
(4) The Tories are being taken seriously again on the international stage. The willingness of John McCain,
Nicolas Sarkozy and Fredrik Reinfeldt to address the Conservative
Conference (in person or by video) is proof that the party is
interesting and credible again. Outside observers are taking the
prospect of a Tory government seriously and are no longer afraid to
offend New Labour’s unforgiving leaders.
(5) But are the Tories taking international issues seriously? Two of the best speeches of conference were given on foreign affairs – one by a refugee from Burma’s odious regime (see Simon Chapman’s report) and one by Andrew Mitchell
– describing the differences between a right and left-of-centre
approach to international development. There wasn’t much else on
foreign policy. There was no mention of Iran in the leader’s closing
speech – and an almost insultingly short reference to Darfur. William
Hague reaffirmed opposition to the euro and constitution but there was
little sense of any urgency on nuclear proliferation or genocide in
(6) David Cameron is leading a united team.
There has been no hint of disloyalty from the Conservative frontbench.
Loyalty was once the party’s secret weapon and it may be true that
we’re discovering it again. William Hague was unstinting in his
support of David Cameron during his speech on Sunday
and the Tory leader’s rivals of last year – David Davis and Liam Fox –
are helpfully reassuring the right with loyal, authentic stewardship of
their respective portfolios.
(7) The A-list injustice continues to bubble away. Monday’s ConservativeHome poll of Tory members
found that just 6% think that the Priority List contains the most
talented individuals in the Conservative Party. The team in charge of
candidates received a rough reception at Sunday’s National Convention. David Cameron knows the issue is a very tricky one for him. He stayed away
from the Conference’s candidates’ reception and wisely decided not to
risk a reference to this flagship internal reform in his leader’s
(8) The accreditation chaos. Many people waited hours and some people a couple of days
for passes to enter the Party Conference’s secure area. MPs, fringe
meeting speakers and some journalists were all affected. Although more
stringent police checks were blamed the delays were much worse than at
Labour in Manchester (where, deliciously, ASLEF couldn’t get entry).
Representatives of Tory members should conduct a full enquiry into this
chaos in order that it never be allowed to happen again.
(9) A community centre has been built. This year’s conference
goers didn’t just leave behind lots of empty wine and beer bottles…
they’ve also turned an unused church into a community centre for the
people of Bournemouth. Three cheers for Tobias Ellwood MP (pictured)
and his volunteer army of party activists. For too long the
Conservative Party has been shy to advertise its compassionate
credentials although Tory activists are invariably the backbone of
their communities’ ‘small platoons’.
(10) Cameron continues to play a long game.
There is impatience amongst the grassroots at the modesty of the
Tories’ opinion poll advantage. Two-thirds of members think the
average Tory lead is too small given Labour’s difficulties. The hope
must be that Labour’s divisions grow as Blairites and Brownites war for
the party’s future. Reid – because of his toughness on crime and
homeland security – is undoubtedly the man most Tories fear. Over time
David Cameron must use the trust he is building within the electorate
to offer voters the kind of reassurance they need on tax, crime and
other traditional issues. He certainly deserves Tory members’ patience
as he plots his difficult course.
FOR OUR CITIZENS’ REPORTERS’ COVERAGE OF BOURNEMOUTH ’06 CLICK HERE.