(10) In tenth position in my top ten of the week is Caroline Spelman. I’ve been going to Party Conference since 1989 and I’ve never known a Party Chairman to have been more anonymous. Perhaps Mrs Spelman’s behind-the-scenes efforts should be credited for the overall success of the Conference but the leadership wisely had to call on William Hague to deliver the traditional morale-boosting opener to Conference – usually the Party Chairman’s role.
(9) Ninth position goes to David Davis. Mr Davis failed again to rise to the occasion. He was probably the only senior Shadow Cabinet minister to underperform this week and was rightly castigated by The Sun for failing to give 100% to David Cameron. Although the Conference went well it will be crime that may make the difference for the Conservatives in a still-very-possible autumn election. It’s vital that Mr Davis raises his game.
(8) Boris Johnson delivered a barnstorming speech on Sunday afternoon but I remain concerned that he’s not got much of a vision for London. Given this week’s successful announcements on tax, Mr Johnson should consider offering Londoners a council tax rebate?
(7) Oliver Letwin has come in for a lot of criticism from visitors to this blog and some of it has been deserved. The party’s head of policy does, however, deserve real credit for the fact that the policy review process is now showing real coherence. There are common themes emerging and those themes and the thoughtfulness of the IDS, Redwood and Lilley reports, in particular, offer a marked contrast to the shallow partisan nature of Team Brown’s announcements.
(6) Iain Dale’s list of the most influential centre right figures correctly included Michael Gove in the top ten. An early backer of David Cameron, the Shadow Education Secretary is a key member of the party leader’s inner circle and has been a strong advocate of the ‘rebalancing’ of recent times. He made one of the most important and under-reported announcements of the week. Fraser Nelson highlights that announcement in his Spectator column this week:
“Any group of teachers would now be able to set up a school, so long as it met certain minimum standards. Such schools would be genuinely independently run. These simple rules offer the prospect of nothing less than a supply side revolution in education.”
It’s not as doorstep-friendly as the inheritance tax pledge but it was probably the boldest proposal to emerge from Blackpool in terms of long-term potential impact.
(5) William Hague continues to have a special place in the hearts of Tory activists. It was in Blackpool eight years ago that he gave his Come With Me And I’ll Give You Back My Country speech – the best political speech I’ve ever heard. It was hairs-raised-on-the-back-of-the-neck stuff. This week he provided a great opening speech and delighted activists on Tuesday by promising to change the law so that a Government could never sign away more powers to Brussels without getting the consent of the British people.
(4) Liam Fox is number four on my list. His speech to conference was good although a little short on detailed policy. But he was rightly ferocious in his pursuit of Gordon Brown’s Iraq visit – the PM’s failure to honour the promise to tell Parliament first about troop reductions and Mr Brown’s exaggeration of troop withdrawal numbers. Tuesday evening’s news bulletins featured Dr Fox’s attacks prominently and he trounced the Armed Forces Minister during a combative exchange in the 8.10am Today programme slot on Wednesday morning.
(3) I’m biased but Iain Duncan Smith gave the performance of the week. Not only was he passionate and articulate he also communicated great understanding of the cause that has come to define his politics: social justice. IDS on social justice… John Major attacking Brown on his Iraq trip… Michael Howard applauding Cameron on Wednesday evening’s media… The ex-leaders did the party proud this week.
(2) George Osborne’s inheritance tax announcement was the most important political event of the week. Not only was it a tax cut – it was a cleverly framed tax cut. Only millionaires will pay inheritance tax, declared the Shadow Chancellor, and the cut will be funded by a new £25,000 levy on non-doms. It remains to be seen whether the poll tax on non-doms will quite do the job of financing the pledge but the announcement was critical to the new Tory-friendliness that can be found within the pages of The Sun and The Daily Mail.
(1) Number one on my list is David Cameron. I wasn’t as wowed by his speech as others were. I certainly think IDS’ speech was better. George Osborne’s tax announcement was probably the most politically potent event of the week. But Cameron deserves number one spot because he has held his nerve over recent trying weeks. He’s the leader and so must take the credit for the unity of the last week, the policy announcements, the readiness of our machine for an election and, of course, for his speech which represented the balanced Conservatism that many of us have longed to see.
Tomorrow I’ll post some observations on the Conference as a whole.