He began by joking that we should be just nine days from polling day. We should be walking the streets of Bury or Bolton or, if things were going particularly well, Wigan! He was in relaxed mode. Certainly confident.
His opening remarks had three main themes:
Policy development. The road to the manifesto would now be rolled out in three chapters:
- Next month there will be a statement on the Opportunity agenda – with a big focus on schools reform.
- In January the focus will be on the Responsibility agenda – with fresh ideas on welfare reform.
- In February the emphasis will be on Security – with a focus on prisons reform.
No doubt, Mr Cameron joked, the Government will attempt to steal Conservative ideas on these subjects, too.
The six main policy groups were now wound up but the social justice work would continue to be pursued by Iain Duncan Smith’s team, the party’s green commitments would be exemplified by a forthcoming paper on decentralised energy, on localism the party would be bringing forward new ideas on how councils will be held accountability for their spending and Ken Clarke would be saying more about the West Lothian question.
Party funding. Repeating the message of the weekend Mr Cameron said that caps on donations to political parties must be across the board – including trade unions. Additionally he promised that the Conservatives want to scrap the new Communications Allowance available to MPs.
Meeting world leaders. Mr Cameron said that he would be meeting the Prime Ministers of Turkey and Israel later today. He would be in Berlin on Friday to address a CDU/CSU Conference on global issues – a conference also to be addressed by Chancellor Merkel. Next month (I think he said next month) he would be journeying to Prague for a conference with the Czech ruling party – the ODS.
We then moved on to the Q&A. I didn’t ask a question. Before I go to these events in future I’ll seek your questions and Sam or I will always try and ask one of them…
Most of the journalists asked about the EU Treaty and whether the Conservatives would still hold a referendum if the Treaty was ratified. Gary Gibbon of Channel 4 news (I took this picture of the back of his head!) said that the Treaty would still, in the Tory view, be bad in 18 months’ time and in two years – why wouldn’t the Conservatives pledge to undo it? Adam Boulton, Nick Robinson, Andrew Porter and Jean Eaglesham all pressed the same issue. David Cameron said that there were too many ‘ifs’ to be definitive now. Ratification depended upon Brown not changing his mind, on the approval of the Lords, on other countries including Ireland voting ‘yes’. This hypothetical debate about post-ratification was the debate Brown wanted. David Cameron said that he was determined to keep focused on stopping the Treaty being ratified in the first place and pointing out the Prime Minister’s broken promise.
Asked about the Liberal Democrats he said that their problems went much deeper than their leader. He was determined to continue to lead a liberal Conservative party. Voters who wanted sensible environmentalism, more localism, an end to ID cards, a focus on schools and real devolution should vote Conservative. The liberal Conservative party was the only sure way of ousting Labour, he concluded.
He promised The Times’ Francis Elliott that the EPP exit pledge would be delivered. It was part of my leadership election programme, he said. He had told Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy that Conservatives inside a new European parliamentary grouping would be "good neighbours" to the EPP rather than "unhappy tenants".
On extending the period of detention without trial he said that he would need to see real new evidence to justify any change in the current position. He had not seen that evidence yet. Furthermore there were dangers that an extension could play into the hands of extremists.
3.30pm video from Conservatives.com: