Conference Season

09/10/2009

Tories the winners from the Conference Season

David Cameron will be pleased with the outcome of the political party conferences, which see the Opposition retaining a comfortable lead in the polls. Labour needed the Tories to have a poor conference and were pinning their hopes on a Eurosceptic rebellion on the Leadership’s position on the Lisbon treaty following the Irish ‘yes’ vote.

It was a measure of the discipline of Cameron’s Conservatives that the story was contained into a single day of discussion, and with no dissention from major figures, a far cry from most of the last 20 years.

It was a sign of Labour’s new indiscipline that a trade union leader tore up a copy of The Sun on the conference platform in response to that newspaper’s endorsement of the Tories.

The contrast between the Leaders’ speeches was equally stark. Cameron just wanted to look Prime Ministerial. It contained some memorable lines but little news. The Prime Minister’s was defiant and policy-heavy – more prose than poetry.

Cameron’s was also a more comfortable middle England speech. Gordon Brown never manages to sound convincing when he talks of the ‘squeezed middle’. In contrast, Cameron’s pitch was to traditional small ‘c’ conservative values. It was one nation Toryism of a style not seen in a Leader since Harold Macmillan.
The conferences were more a tale of the deputies than the leaders. Shadow Chancellor George Osborne gave a strong speech, which outflanked the Chancellor on public sector pay restraint and spending cuts. Business Secretary Peter Mandelson moulded the Labour conference around a vision of New Labour in the post-crash world. And Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman Vince Cable outshone his own Leader with his ‘mansion tax’ speech.

Conference winners:
• Cameron– looks ready to govern
• Mandelson – lifted Labour spirits
• Osborne – no longer Boy George
• The Sun – created season talking point

And the losers:
• Grayling – made only major gaffe
• Milliband (D) – low profile
• Theresa May – lost chunk of her brief to former leader IDS

But the real contrast was with last year’s conferences, which took place at the beginning of the financial crisis. The 2008 debates were still about the proceeds of growth. The 2009 talk was of spending cuts and banker restraints. Populism was in and, with the exception of Mayor Boris Johnson, the City was definitely out.
This will be the backdrop to the new parliamentary session about to start and which will come to a quick end by Easter next year. The Pre-Budget Report next month will outline details of cuts a reelected Labour government would make. Labour’s last chance is to convince voters that the Tories will cut more gleefully and too soon. The signs so far are that the argument is not cutting through.

Conservatives
• Raise age to start receiving state pension to 66 for men by 2016 and women by 2020
• A public sector pay freeze for workers in 2011, except for those earning less than £18,000 pa and the armed forces
• State backed insurance scheme for residential care with contributory payment of £8,000 at the age of 65
• All schools free to become Academies
• General Sir Richard Dannatt to advise Conservatives on defence and take peerage Labour
• Extension of car and van scrappage scheme
• Pay freeze on 40,000 of the highest paid public sector workers in 2010/11
• Fiscal Responsibility Bill to ensure that the Government reduces the budget deficit year on year
• Cancer patients to be entitled to diagnostic tests completed and with results within one week of seeig their GP
• Cancel car parking charges at all NHS Hospitals for all in-patients

Liberal Democrats
• ‘Mansion tax’ – plans for a 0.5% annual levy on homeowners who have a property valued over £1m
• Scrap Strategic Health Authorities, tuition fees and Titan prisons
• New streamlined National Curriculum


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