A few observations on the week that was.
Thanks Gordon – you brought the Conservatives together
If one photo summarises the week it is this image. It was taken by a ConservativeHome reader who was one of the very few real activists to attend a fringe meeting on grammar schools. In different circumstances grassroot members unhappy at Project Cameron would have filled this meeting to voice their anger at the Tory leadership. Graham Brady, hero of the grammarsgate rebels, wasn’t the only Tory who was on best behaviour (see his very good article for The Telegraph). At Tuesday’s meeting there were more journalists present than party members. Faced with electoral oblivion the Tories came together in Blackpool and the brave faces of the start of the week became election bravehearts.
Hardly snap, Mr Brown
My internet dictionary suggests that the adjective ‘snap’ means ‘arrived at quickly and without reflection’ or ‘coming suddenly and without warning’. If an autumn election does still take place it can hardly be described as ‘snap’. Danny Finkelstein joked on Newsnight yesterday that Gordon Brown might as well have ‘phoned the Tory leadership everyday over the last few weeks to check that we had our manifesto ready, candidates in place, and a fighting fund in the bank! The Tory leadership (photographed above at a manifesto meeting yesterday) is now ready if Gordon Brown has the bottle.
The million pound moment
Francis Elliott in The Times has called it the million pound moment – the moment that George Osborne announced that only millionaires would pay inheritance tax under a Conservative government. Reports from battleground seats suggest that the policy has big cut-through and has delighted our new friends at the Mail and Sun.
Real Conservatism was on the Blackpool menu
The return to tax relief (albeit without any belief in the dynamic,
supply-side benefits of lower taxation) wasn’t the only good news of
the week for more traditional Conservatives. Last weekend it became
clear that David Cameron wanted to crack down on long-term dependency
by giving private and voluntary sector bodies the task of getting more
people into work (and, crucially, keeping them in work). The savings
from this new belief in welfare reform will help finance a reduction in
stamp duty for first-time buyers and for the elimination of the unfair
couple penalty that faces people on benefits. Michael Gove also
announced a supply-side revolution for schools. Alongside William
Hague’s Euroscepticism, David Cameron’s measured policies on capping
immigration and Iain Duncan Smith’s poverty-fighting agenda we are now
seeing a lengthening list of reasons to believe that a change of
government would bring real change for the nation. I’m left wondering
what might have happened if these policies had been introduced earlier.
The Sun, Telegraph and Mail probably would never have gotten so
negative. Amanda Platell has similar thoughts in today’s Mail.
“The whole party has surged ahead, “ she writes, “thanks to a focus on
the things that really matter to voters: tax cuts; the family;
immigration; crime; and Europe. Just makes you wonder where they’d have
got to today if they hadn’t spent so long stuck on Dave’s icebergs.”
The triumph of the ‘And theory’
The party has abandoned those icebergs, though, Amanda. There’ll be
no retreat from many aspects of David Cameron’s change agenda.
ConservativeHome hopes that some forms of change will actually become
more real. The commitment to candidate diversity should, for example,
include help for lower income people to join the Tory green benches. A
commitment to human rights must mean an openness to serious reform of
the United Nations and a rethinking of our country’s relationship with
nations like Saudi Arabia. The need for energy independence could lead
us to some of the policy conclusions that have already been made by
those worried by the possibility of climate change.
Is everything more or less okay now, then?
No, there are still some significant weaknesses that need to be
addressed but there’ll be plenty of time to discuss them in the months
A well-organised conference
There were some problems at accreditation and there were the sound
failures at the very start of proceedings but the Conference went very
smoothly overall. Congratulations are due to Fingerprint Events for
their first major event. The video wall, in particular, was a great
It seems odd that we are leaving Blackpool as a Conference venue
just at the time that the local council finally becomes Conservative
but the facilities do leave a lot to be desired. The main Winter
Gardens ballroom is too small, the meeting rooms in the Imperial Hotel
were invariably hot and stuffy and too many B&Bs were a disgrace. I
wish Blackpool well but it has a lot to do if it is to restore its
standing as an attractive resort.