The first few days of their annual conference might have been overshadowed by paisley pyjamas and some reckless defections to UKIP. But the Prime Minister’s speech to the party faithful yesterday has put fire into the belly of Tory activists and left the Conservatives on course to gain an overall majority at the General Election.
Joey Jones, the Deputy Political Editor of Sky News, said it was David Cameron’s best speech since entering Number 10. Tim Shipman from the Mail on Sunday likened it to a revivalist preacher raising his arms to command a standing ovation.
Minutes after David Cameron walked off the stage, a UKIP friend texted me to say, only half in jest, “I’m thinking of defecting back to the Conservative Party.”
Party leaders’ conference speeches are rarely noticed or remembered by the general public. They resonate more with journalists and the Westminster village. But, they are important in that, if done right, they can give a party momentum and credibility going into the crucial six month period before an election.
A party leader who gives a barnstorming performance, throwing out red-meat policies to their activists, while also outlining a big and inclusive vision for government, will be taken much more seriously by the press than one who is dull and uninspiring, or who speaks only to the prejudices and obsessions of their die-hard supporters at the expense of addressing the hopes and aspirations of the country as a whole.
To understand just how important conference speeches can be in making or breaking electoral fortunes, remember that it was an uninspiring and half-hearted effort by David Davis in 2005 that saw him squander an overwhelming lead among Tory activists. It cost him his position as the front-runner for the party leadership. In contrast, David Cameron’s confident and polished debut on the conference stage transformed him from relative obscurity into the man to beat.
The consensus from last week’s Labour conference was that theirs is a party not ready for government, as it is content to speak only to its core voters. By contrast, the atmosphere at the Tory gathering was one of understated but determined confidence. The Conservatives are comfortable in office and serious about winning the next election.
The Prime Minister’s speech energised his activists not only with its fiery delivery, but with its content. There was some radical Toryism in there to mollify the right of the party, including English Votes for English Laws and the promise of a referendum on EU membership. But there were also a range of new announcements on home ownership and a bold plan to increase the top and lower thresholds of income tax. This will help the Conservatives reconnect with middle class voters who have often felt neglected by the coalition.
In his statesmanlike and authoritative denunciations of ISIS, Cameron presented a sharp contrast to a weak and ineffectual Ed Miliband as someone who can be trusted to keep Britain safe on the world stage.
When the narrative of the next General Election comes to be written, commentators will look back at this conference speech and say it marked the moment when David Cameron put clear water between himself and Ed Miliband, reunited his party and left it beyond doubt that the Conservatives are serious about winning a second term.
You read it here first: the Conservatives are on course for an overall majority in May 2015.