Tory conference much more upbeat than you'd think

There are whispers that private polling implies the Conservatives are doing better than they appear to be, speeches are clear cut with hard language and an uncompromising tone, and the Prime Minister appears to be in a fighting mood. The conference is very upbeat

Tories on a roll?
Steven George-Hilley
On 30 September 2014 12:34

Starting the last party conference before the general election with a sex scandal and a public, painful defection would usually send its leadership into turmoil. Yet as I walk the clinical halls of the ICC and booze-drenched bars in the Hyatt Hotel, activists seem positively upbeat about the future.

There are whispers that private polling implies the Conservatives are doing better than they appear to be, speeches are clear cut with hard language and an uncompromising tone, and the Prime Minister appears to be in a fighting mood.

If on Wednesday, as I suspect, Cameron delivers one of his defining speeches, it would not be the first time he has bounced back from certain defeat. Nearly a decade ago, in the 2005 leadership election race, with hardly any MPs backing his cause, it was that single speech which captured the imagination of the membership and many people in the country, injecting the party with a much desired dose of optimism.

But who could forget 2007? With Gordon Brown ahead in the polls and planning to call an election, it was an astute announcement on inheritance tax from his Chancellor followed by a Rocky Balboa style “Bring it on” speech from Dave which sent Labour into panic, and forced cancellation of an election which they would have won.

Usually, when leaders have their backs to the wall, they can crumble or stumble. One of David Cameron’s finest qualities, which even his enemies must concede, is his ability to turn a bad situation good, when we all least expect it.

The leadership was, in my view, cautiously quiet around the Carswell defection. This is not a mistake they have made with Mark Reckless. Cabinet Ministers, the Party Chairman, The Mayor of London and even the Prime Minister himself have branded the balding oddball Mr Reckless as a liar and a traitor, who was happy to use the funding and hard work of grassroots activists to get himself elected.

This narrative has played well with the troops on the ground, many of whom have been out and about pounding the streets of Birmingham for their fellow candidates and a Conservative government.

As well as delivering a series of well-crafted speeches, loaded with the razor sharp messaging of Lynton Crosby, each Cabinet member has also offered some pretty exciting policies. Welfare caps, 7-day healthcare and new powers to tackle extremists. All of these announcements are not only red meat for the Tory clan, they are eye-catching and bold policies for the wider public.

Last night, as I stood amongst the many hundreds of members at the London reception, Boris Johnson gave a rallying introductory speech to “his friend” David Cameron, who he assured us will be leading the party into the next election.

The previous evening, Cabinet Minister Eric Pickles addressed several hundred activists at a Parliament Street think tank rally, calling for everyone to take the fight to “Mr Miliband” and his socialist chums. In both receptions I attended, the speakers left the room to deafening chants of “Five more years, five more years”. A war cry not typical of a Party expecting defeat in the Spring next year.

After Ed Miliband fudged his opportunity to provide a serious, electoral pitch to become Prime Minister last week in Manchester, the Conservative membership can smell blood. Not only was Labour’s conference stale, it was so poor that they successfully managed to reverse the traditional poll bounce, with the party’s lead dropping by three points, leaving a two point gap.

Cameron and his team know, that a strong policy-focussed speech about the future of Britain will almost certainly provide the Conservatives with a significant poll lead, giving them a strong base to campaign for a full majority.

This expected poll bounce, will chime well with the membership, appease the doubters and get them thinking hard about how important it is for them to commit themselves to the Tory cause once more.

Ed Miliband didn’t talk about the deficit and he didn’t talk about immigration, not because he forgot, but because he doesn’t care about these issues. That alone disqualifies him from the position of Prime Minister, and explains why he rightly only has a two point poll lead.

If Cameron seizes the moment, and delivers one of his game-changing speeches, then the Conservatives will indeed achieve that all important poll lead, paving the way for campaign momentum. Cameron cannot achieve a majority without a loyal army of supportive activists, and the sooner the party membership realise that, the better.

Steven George-Hilley is a director at the Parliament Street think tank and a Conservative Party activist. He is a Contributing Editor to The Commentator and tweets @StevenGeorgia he also writes for Civil Society.

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