Curate’s egg Conference for the Tories…

If we seem to be obsessing on the Tories recently, there’s good reason to be… Good spot on that YouGov poll from Brian, which suggests this conference was something of curate’s egg (though it will probably take a day or two for us to see any bounce)… Here’s my own abbreviated thoughts on the bits of the conference (can’t say a huge amount about Cameron’s speech since I took a call ten minutes in on another story)… First reasons to be cheerful (if you are a Tory that is):- The opposition is rubbish… Even Brian’s poll underscores how far behind they are, adn they would not even be in the game if were not for a huge anti Tory bias in the electoral system… Getting Labour past this conference season without an internal coup was a Tory coup in itself… Brown, a man who came to power on the strength of a deal over dinner has lumbered Labour with a leader who has no discernible political instincts… And a front bench, which although infinitely more experienced than the Tory equivalent looks knackered and second rate…

– The Tory front bench is as well prepared on their briefs as any incoming British government for a generation… If Osborne cannot find those cuts after 12/18 months pouring over National Audit Office reports on how Whitehall spends its money, no one can… And Michael Gove’s education policy is well thought out modest and a practical (if partial) unwinding of Margaret Thatcher’s centralising reforms of 1988…

– And, despite all the rubbing of hands on Europe after the Lisbon No vote, Cameron’s grand alliance held pretty well… No disruptions, no awkward silence…. What lack of delivery on the Referendum can’t the prospect of power and the vanquishing of Labour will…

– The Dannatt move was sneaky, but an inspired piece of political thievery… For a party with no discernible position (never mind policy) on foreign affairs, they have in one fell swoop have created the impression that the Military backs the Opposition rather than the Government… No wonder military high command is a little freaked… They may get over it, but Labour won’t… Simply by outlining an exit strategy modelled on Labour’s own Iraq strategy, Cameron looks to be stealing the march on Brown… (it won’t be the last before May…)

– Osborne is losing his boyish good looks… A couple of years back I did a session on Iain Dale’s Doughty Street TV, when the Ben Duckworth presenter Ben Duckworth suggested that Osborne looked way too young and flaky to be holding down the shadow chancellor’s job… My response was that he would grow into the job, and the gravitas would come with… He like many of the Tory fence still look to be wearing suits that are one or two sizes too big for them, but with Steve Hilton’s careful and sustained tutelage, he’s moving on from the boy George of 2006…

– And they have the media eating out of their hands… at least two of the largest beasts Ben Bradby and Nick Robinson even pre christening Osborne and Cameron the Chancellor and PM…

So what’s to worry about on the other side of the coin? Well, not a lot… I would offer one cautionary note, although it relates more to a prospective period in government than whether they win the next election or not…

Much (though not all) of the gains Cameron’s new liberal Tories have made in the last two years have been in making Labour look like an utter shambles… And yet for the first time this conference had a number of tell tale moments that suggest that the undoubted unity in the party is still more of a community of self interest, rather than a team that’s ready to take power. Grayling’s Sergeant Wilson moment, Boris off on one over Europe, even Grayling and Boris playing different ends of the middle. And Cameron’s Eurosceptic call on Europe…

All of these things might betoken an end to the control freakery of the Blair Brown period… Something that in and of itself might be a ‘good thing’ for British politics as political parties allow their dissenters to breath out again… But for a prospective government this stuff is all over the place… One of the best left blog analysis of the Cameron comes from the decided un-hack-like Will Straw at Left Foot Forward, who tracks a host of contradictions between Cameron’s smooth reassuring narratives and its incongruence with what other members of the shadow front bench. It remains to be seen whether Labour are smart enough to spot it and utilise the gaps as they arise…

The Tory official comms strategy is an Obama one: ie, romance the public whilst solidifying the base and fight everywhere… What we’ve seen in Manchester is a Bush-like consolidation of the base… And it should be more than enough to get him in… (Although whatever Ashcroft’s polling says about opinion in marginal constituencies, the local by election results are not showing much further shift in political sentiment)… There will be no Big Mo for the 2010 British General Election… It will be a long, hard and dirty campaign…

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But for my money, it wasn’t Cameron’s speech that matters… It was, once again, George Osborne’s… As Economist puts it (with another faint whiff of Sergeant Wilson, he was seeking permission to be rather beastly:

…the Tories have now clearly given warning that they intend to be radical. If they were to come into power next year and, for example, immediately introduce a carbon tax or curb the outlandish generosity of public-sector pensions, then it would be hard for the electorate to complain. That mandate is a useful thing for any government to have—well worth the gamble that Mr Osborne took this week.

Or as the Guardian put it on their front page this morning… this was the opening salvo in Cameron’s war on the state…

Hmmm, maybe… Osborne has identified an amount of collateral waste… and his plan to inject more than a little transparency in the way senior civil servants disburse monies (by forcing them to publish amounts over £25k) will, he hopes, bring in a fair amount of cultural change inside the big institutions of Whitehall… But for all the talk of doing away with Big Government, there is a modesty about the way Cameron is heading into government that speaks less of Thatcher’s driven, workaholic and whiggish radicalism and more of a return to a leisurely Tory paternalism of an earlier age…

Whether that proves to be fit for purpose in this fragmenting modern age is quite another question…

  • DR

    7 long months to go Mick, I hope we never go down the road of a fixed term for government, snap elections reduce the suffering.
    The Tories played the conference exceptionally well, confident but not cocky, impressive but still “family”, bit cheesy but thats politics, they recovered quickly from the stumble on Lisbon step on the way in and the blue haze of the normal attendees was much diluted. Cameron is good at reacting quickly and decisively to a problem, and the speech was excellent at this stage in the game.
    Alot now rest on the economy if the “recovery” continues at the same rate then Gordon may be forgiven, but the chance are it wont be that simple, suppose a Christmas election is impssible?
    get it over with.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    re. Curate Egg – I will go with the original meaning

    “The expression “a curate’s egg” originally meant something that is partly good and partly bad, but as a result is entirely spoiled. Modern usage has tended to change this to mean something having a mix of good and bad qualities.”

    El Gordo (who has been playing an absolute blinder on Norn Iron) now has a sniff – what seemed like a lost cause and seemed to be written all over his chops is now game back on. He has of course the Plain People of Ireland* to thank for that as the ratification of the Lisbon treaty threw the Tory conference into some dissaray with every interviewer raising the Referendum issue.

    This was a BAD conference for the Tories considering what we might have expected and the real political winners since the ratification are UKIP and therfore on the basis of the splitting of the little-Englander-vote the Labour party.

    If Czech ratification takes place then expect the real fun to begin and El Gordo will hold out for as long as possible to ensure they do and to give the Tories time to get their inevitable euro-civil-UKIP-war well underway.

    *what a truly delicious thought

  • Brit

    Sammy, I think we have to accept that the Tories are going to win the next general election and anything else is delusional thinking.

    However as I’ve been saying for a while now (in fact I ought to have a bet on it) I think the majority is going to be a lot less than the anticipated landslide. Partly because of the inherent pro-Labour bias of our quaint electoral system, partly because of continued econmic recovery, party because there is a lack of enthusiasm for the Tories and Labour voters who stayed home for bye elections, Euros etc will come out to vote for the biggie and partly because the Tories may come unstuck on Europe.

    If the Tories have a sub-20 seat majority their government could look shaky with Parliamentary defeats arising from Thatcherite v Cuddly Conservative tensions, further Euro division and tax cutting vs balencing the government books.

    After one term the Tories, unpopular as spending cutters, lose and Labour bounces back in for another three terms and Cameron becomes a footnote of history against the general tide of centre-left dominance for the 21st Century.

    Well that’s the best scenario I can some up with which is vaguely plausible.

  • DR

    Reg may have been wrong in his speech, even one or two seats here could be vital in giving Cameron some stability, at present a small but sufficient Tory majority is most likely, whether Cameron will use it to push through electoral reform of some sort to even out the score, it would be natural to attach it to his proposal to cut the number of MPs, but it wouldnt take that large a group of rebels to upset things, I think he knows that and “marginal seats” over here will be treated the same as mainland ones.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    brit,

    re. Delusional – I would have agreed with that until the Euro debacle at the conference – they must be still firm favourites and the SUN’s intervention will add to that – but until we know the likely impact of UKIP in the Westminsters then there must be some cause for optimism in the Labour camp.

  • bob wilson

    Sammy McNally’s and some of the other comments were obviously written before the latest opinion poll was announced!