Who was the last Conservative leader to celebrate their birthday at the party conference, as David Cameron did yesterday? Correct – Margaret Thatcher, who did so in 1978 and 1989 (on 13 October). The first time, her speech fell on the day itself. She acknowledged the occasion with what was surely one of her oddest public utterances: “I confess that this is the biggest birthday party that I have ever had. I just do not know whether my parents had in mind the timing of the party conference, but if that is what is meant by family planning I am all for it.” History does not record whether, like Samantha Cameron, Sir Denis offered to mark the occasion by taking her out for a balti.
A rejoinder from Owen Paterson to the accusation that politicians are all the same. “I am probably,” he declares, “the only MP who had a pet badger. I am certainly the only MP who had two”.
During the BoJo-mania, a member of staff who has worked with both the Mayor and the PM told me the difference between the two experiences. “Working for David Cameron is a bit like working in the civil service,” he said. “Working for Boris is more like being in the circus”. Entering the hall yesterday for the Johnsonian address I found myself ushered to the front row. A great speech – tremendous humour but with serious content.
Uproar at the Policy Exchange event on Reconsidering Thatcherism as former Number 10 policy chief James O’Shaughnessy declared his favourite policy for appealing to the strivers: “build lots more houses on green fields. After all, every house was a green field once”. Audience members protested; councillors feared the idea would cost them their seats. Fellow panellist Charles Moore was unmoved: “if people who live in green areas think there are too many houses being built, they should do what they believe and knock their own down”.
Another questioner put it to the panel that Greece, with its crash programme of economic reform, was now the most Thatcherite country in Europe. Peter Lilley reflected that the parallel was not exact. “Mrs Thatcher did what she did because she thought it was right and proper. The Greeks are doing it because the Germans are telling them to”. A particularly pertinent point to him, as he recalled – he owed his promotion to the Cabinet to the late Nicholas Ridley, who had resigned after suggesting that monetary union was “a German racket designed to take over the whole of Europe”.
A pity that Alan Duncan was not here to take part in the international development session yesterday, since he is on a ministerial visit to Yemen. Also a pity that the Secretary of State forgot to mention him in her remarks – but then in such a short session there was very little time to discuss anything very much. The subject is of great interest to many Conservatives and I will be making further contributions to the debate.
Amazing to hear from William Hague, in conversation with the Telegraph’s Peter Oborne, that during their thirteen years in office no Labour Foreign Secretary made a bilateral visit to Canada, Australia or New Zealand. Equally shocking to hear that the previous government scrapped the priceless Foreign Office library which housed two centuries of unique documents, such as annotated treaties. William has taken some steps to rectify the situation, establishing a history library and, crucially, restuffing Albert, a 20-foot anaconda who surveyed the shelves from his glass case. “He is looking very optimistic about the future of our foreign policy”, says Hague.
Not surprisingly, a number of the questions were about the EU. Though policy had been negotiated in the coalition, Hague expected “quite a difference between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats on Europe at the next election, and I relish that difference”. Had he gone native in the Foreign Office? Certainly not: “While I’ve been wrong on many things in the last 20 or 30 years, I think many of the things I’ve said on Europe and the euro have turned out to be right”. Indeed they have.
I am proud of the way ConHome’s presence at the conference has grown. This year we have hosted a dozen events, many in our own marquee (aided by the generous logistical input of Tim Montgomerie’s dad). I think there was once a view that ConHome existed to cause trouble, but nothing could be further from the truth. We just want to ensure that winning a majority stays at the top of the agenda. Let’s see what David Cameron has to say later today that will take us closer to the victory we all want to achieve.