The 2010 Conference was always going to be a tough one to pitch. Jubilation at being a party of Government rather than opposition was always going to be balanced by disappointment that we didn’t win outright and the sobering reality of the difficult choices ahead. Although the biggest Tory conference ever (apparently 13,000 registered delegates) – it actually doesn’t feel that busy. If anything before kick-off things felt quite muted.
The conference started by revisiting the theme of the ‘Big Society’. This was a bit of a risk. As we found on the campaign the issue with the ‘Big Society’ idea is that whilst people intuitively support the sentiment, they have difficulty in articulating what it means in practice. As an election slogan it fell a bit flat. Without the urgency of the election it is now worth another stab at getting the message over to the voters – the reality is that the philosophy that underpins it is at the core of Cameron’s thinking and guides every aspect of our policy agenda.
The first Fringe event I attended was promoted by the TRG and explored real examples of the ‘Big Society’ in action. Later the main conference began with another hotch-potch montage of the kind of people and action that the phrase is intended to embrace. We need to do more of this. My hope is that the comprehension gap will be made easier over the next year or two as the enabling legislation is implemented and the pool of ‘real’ examples increases.
The set-piece speech of the introductory session fell to Baraness Warsi. I’d briefly chatted to her the night before and she was a wee bit nervous about being first up. It was a good speech throughout – she spoke with humility about the day she was called into the Cabinet – and with honesty and humour about her first perception of having been offered what she described as “a non-job”(minister without Portfolio) and a “Job Share” (Co-Chairman). It shows good self-awareness that she tackled this directly as I’ve heard her critics chuck those exact descriptions of her role at her. But she hit her real stride and carried the hall when she reached the passage reflecting on Labour – I can’t paraphrase it any better so will just quote direct:
“They say we want to make spending cuts. They say we are letting down the poor. But it was them who left us with this mess. So let me say something to the Labour Party.
We left you a thriving, buoyant economy in 1997… and you brought Britain back to the brink of bankruptcy.
You hammered the working classes by scrapping the 10p tax band. You left an economy where people who are black or brown are twice as likely to be unemployed. And you let down the regions by creating an economy where for every ten private sector jobs created in the South, just one was created in the North and the Midlands.
So Mr. Miliband, Don’t you dare say you are a friend of the working classes. Don’t you dare say you’re a friend of minorities. Don’t you dare say you’re the friend of people in the north. Because I am all of those things and you are no friend of mine!”