Five thoughts from the Party Conferences

David Cameron's speechPlease note this post is from my previous blog. To read my posts during the 2017 General Election campaign click here.

This year was the first Conservative Party conference I’ve been able to get to since 2009 – and I was pleased to be there for an encouraging week.  As I tweeted on Wednesday, I left Manchester even more determined than I entered it – and I suspect I was far from the only delegate to feel the same.

Now that the dust has settled on the Party Conferences (and I’ve had a chance to sleep mine off), here are my top five reflections on this year’s conference season.

Speeches still matter
Politics and policy aside, speeches still matter.  Unkindly setting Nick Clegg to one side for a moment, both Ed Miliband’s and the PM’s speeches were significant and have shifted the terms of political debate as we approach the 18-months-to-the-election mark.  As this week’s viral superstar Nigel Fletcher points out, the “politics of ideas is back”.  The election will be fought on ‘finish the job’ vs ‘the cost of living’ – but with every piece of good economic news that comes along (good news that will make its way to our pockets as well as our TV screens) the former is going to look a lot more attractive than the latter.

Ed’s ‘stop the world’ mentality won’t wash
It’s undeniable that Ed Miliband captured attention with his frankly bonkers pledge to freeze energy prices for 20 months if Labour wins the election.  In the short-term, he is probably pretty pleased with himself – but I think his Brighton speech will come to be remembered as the moment he lost the election.  That’s a bold prediction on my part – but his speech marked nothing more than a return to the failed socialism of the 1970s which voters, when push comes to shove, simply will not buy.  George Osborne put it brilliantly in his speech on Monday – Ed’s is a “stop the world, I want to get off” mentality.  Voters expect more than that from a potential PM.

The PM has the right answer to ‘What next?’
David Cameron’s speech was less important for its style than its substance – and showed he has the right answer to the crucial ‘What next?’ question.  It was encouraging to hear his emphasis on the fact that it’s not enough just to fix Labour’s problems – a Conservative government should be about building something better.  As the economy continues to recover, this will become even more important – and the PM has placed us on the right side of the debate.  It might not have been his usual no-notes tour de force, but on content, I thought it was his best yet.

Home-ownership and aspiration are back
The bringing forward of the second phase of Help to Buy to next week is a sign of how confident the PM and Chancellor are that the Conservatives must go into the next election as the party of aspiration and hope.  We have always been the Party of home-ownership – and no matter what mud is thrown at the government over the next 20 months, helping people to gain a stake in their futures by owning their own home is absolutely the right thing to do.  It’s also a policy that is going to connect with a large swathe of voters.

And finally…

Reports of the death of the Party Conference have been greatly exaggerated
After a four year absence, I was surprised to find this year’s Conference pretty similar to the four I attended in the last Parliament.  Yes, there were lots of lobbyists – but let’s not get too carried away, as it was ever thus.  The important thing is that, in Manchester at least, you could find thousands of Party members engaging with ideas in fringe events, contributing to CCHQ’s members-only sessions and sharing their experiences of campaigning around the country. There may be fewer of us (in all the main parties), but being a political activist still means something, and so does Conference.

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