William Hague’s speech: A few weeks ago I wrote for The Guardian’s Comment is free and welcomed the more balanced Conservatism of recent months.  The messages of modernisation are being blended with grittier messages on Europe, tax and crime.  ‘The politics of and‘ is certainly on show here at the Nottingham Spring Forum with much emphasis on the NHS and crime… on greenery and the importance of the family.  This is what William Hague said earlier today:

"So when some commentators write that the Conservative party should simply stick to its well-worn grooves, I say they’re wrong. I say the challenges we face are so great, that party loyalties among younger voters are so weak, and that the failure of Labour across the board is so absolute, that the time has indeed come for us to fight with as much confidence for a cleaner environment and a better health service as we have always fought for strong defence and fairer tax. That our task is to show that social responsibility, bringing out the best in families and communities and not just relying on the state, is the only way to face the great social and environmental crises of our time."

Mr Hague (under a little fire for his outside interests) used his speech to set out five broad principles to guide Conservative foreign policy:

  1. The return of Cabinet-style foreign policy decision-making – in contrast with Tony Blair’s "decade of sofa-style decision making";
  2. For Britain’s "permanent friendship" with the USA to be coupled with "honest criticism" but nothing to disrupt the  diplomatic, intelligence and security links between our two nations;
  3. Greater investment in relations with the Asia-Pacific region with "much increased attention on the many friendly nations of the Middle East";
  4. Reform of multilateral institutions  EU, NATO and the UN;
  5. A defence of our basic values across the world – "a strong attachment to human rights, a belief in the rule of law, the defence of political freedom, the promotion of economic liberalism, and humanitarian intervention when it is sensible and practical."

George Osborne’s speech:
The Shadow Chancellor gave an upbeat assessment of the party’s prospects in his address:

"You wouldn’t have believed me if I’d said to you, back in the days after our last election defeat, that less than two years later we would be ahead of our opponents, in command of local government, dictating the political pace and, above all, setting the agenda of ideas.  But we are, thanks to you, thanks to our courage to change, and thanks to David Cameron – who has defied the armchair critics, stuck to his guns and put us in a position where we can now win the next General Election."

He called on Gordon Brown to put the NHS at the heart of Wednesday’s Budget:

"In every part of this country there are local hospitals facing closure, nurses facing the axe and junior doctors left in limbo.  The chancellor’s financial mismanagement has led to ward closures, job losses and patients travelling further for their care.  So Gordon Brown should make Budget Day NHS Day.  He should set out the National Health Service’s budget for the next three years, so the health professionals can start to plan for the long term now.  We’ve already had the three-year budgets for the Home Office, the schools capital budget and the Treasury itself.  So why not the NHS? He must have done the sums. Let’s have them."

Liam Fox on defence: The Shadow Defence Secretary spoke to a gathering of Conservative Future about defence policy (at 36 I probably shouldn’t have been there).  Dr Fox addressed the issues of energy security, the rise of Russia and the threat of Iran-driven nuclear proliferation.  And, in the best line of Conference so far, he noted that hawks tended to live a lot longer than doves.

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