(1) The media have decided that the Conservatives have won the next election. There has long been an expectation of Tory victory but it's become a near certainty because of recent events (particularly the Budget and misuse of expenses). One BBC journalist told me that his colleagues and editors were now more
interested in an announcement from George Osborne than from Alistair
Darling. Yesterday's announcement on primary school academies from Michael Gove led bulletins throughout the day. Tory policy matters because the media class has decided that it will be Government policy in a year's time.
(2) The Tories have decided that Labour has reached the contempt phase. William Hague predicted in 1997 that New Labour would first produce fascination among voters, then disillusionment, and then contempt. It's taken longer than he perhaps hoped but yesterday the Shadow Foreign Secretary launched a no holds barred attack on the "decomposing political muckheap" that is Labour's frontbench. He described Labour as the "disgustingly grubbiest" of all administrations of the modern era. Strong stuff and it wouldn't have been issued if CCHQ wasn't confident that the public is now contemptuous of Brown. William Hague is pictured with our Cheltenham PPC, Mark Coote.
(3) David Cameron is oozing confidence. The Tory leader is a confident man who has a realistic expectation that he will be Prime Minister in a year's time. It was obvious from his powerfully delivered speech and also obvious from two brief chats I had with him earlier today. He is fully aware that with the expectation of a Tory victory he, his team and his manifesto are about to face unprecendented scrutiny. A media class that gave Tony Blair an easy ride will not give an easy ride to the Conservatives. David Cameron is pictured with the Liberal Democrat PPC who defected yesterday.
(4) The media are attempting to set up a Boris V Cameron split. Saturday's Times suggested that Boris "despises" Cameron. Interviewed by ConHome yesterday the Mayor of London dismissed the story as "tripe" and "fantastic". He also said that it was "almost certain" that being Mayor would be his last big job in politics but not one journalist in Cheltenham believes that Boris has given up his ambition to follow David Cameron into Downing Street. The Boris story is going to run and run.
(5) David Cameron and George Osborne say they want a mandate for specific spending cuts. David Cameron said that ministers will be promoted according to their
success at using new technology and decentralisation to deliver more on
smaller budgets. And, nearer the time of the election, they will spell out the specific nature of planned spending cuts.
(6) The next Conservative government will probably raise taxes. That has to be the conclusion from David Cameron's address to Spring Forum. He said (my emphasis): "Fifteen years ago, I was in the Treasury as we had to deal with public finances that had got out of control; debt that had got too high. We had to put up taxes, and I hated it. But it was the right thing to do and that lesson has stayed with me."
(7) Philip Hammond is a rising star. His steady rise in the ConHome league table captures the increasingly high regard that grassroots members have for the Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury. A safe, intelligent and hardworking frontbencher, George Osborne said that Mr Hammond would be "one of the most powerful members of the government."
(8) Spring Forum needs to be better organised. The Saturday agenda was very thin – rescued by strong speeches from Boris Johnson to all representatives and from William Hague to candidates. Two half hour sessions from Andrew Lansley and Michael Gove were closed to the media (except to ConHome!!) and put in such a small room that many conference attendees couldn't even get in. The party needs to decide whether it wants a two day conference or a one day rally (although it must always be addressed by Dan Hannan). Spring Forum fell between the two possibilities this weekend.
(9) Jeremy Middleton will be a great representative of the grassroots. I backed him and am therefore biased but the grassroots have a new Chairman of the National Convention who believes in members' democratic rights and is a believer in the internet's transformational power. Commiserations to the other candidates for the job and the party owes the now retired Don Porter enormous thanks for all his years of service to the Conservative Party.
(10) The new generation of Conservative candidates is impressive. I hesitate to name too many names but the more I see our candidates the more I'm hopeful about the next Conservative government. Andrea Leadsom, Harriett Baldwin, Charlie Elphicke and so many others I caught up with in Cheltenham are going to make us proud.