My Conservative Party Diary – Monday

The annual Conservative gathering would not be the same without its traditional outdoor soundtrack, the hooting and clanging and shrieking of protesters. They were out in force yesterday morning before the conference even opened. I salute their indefatigability, as George Galloway might say, but what in the world do they hope to achieve? Who are they trying to persuade by blocking the roads and making a racket? Perhaps they think that one day a passing constituency chairman will say to himself, “By Jove, they’re right. We really must unite to fight the Tory scum!”. I must say I like the Socialist Workers’ new nautical-looking banners. In the breezy sunshine, their demonstration looked like a leftist regatta.

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As I told yesterday’s ConHome fringe meeting, I am more optimistic about Tory prospects than I have felt for some time. Don’t be spooked by Labour’s poll bump this weekend. Research I conducted immediately before the conference season, to avoid the skewing effect of the relentless coverage, showed improved ratings over the summer for the party in general – particularly on being united, and being trusted on the economy – and for David Cameron in particular, who trounces Ed Miliband on nearly all measures. The picture in the marginal seats is admittedly more sobering. But nearly four in ten of those who say they would vote Labour tomorrow don’t think the party has learned the right lessons from their time in government, and only just over half of them would rather see Miliband in Number 10 than Cameron. It’s not over by a long way.

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The Milibandite plan for price controls and land confiscation is an easy target that the Conservatives will not miss. At the ConHome event yesterday Owen Paterson railed at the “bovine stupidity” of a policy that has “failed every time someone’s tried it, going right back to Diocletian in 301.” This is true. But Ed is onto something in the idea that many people feel the economy does not really work for them. My Blue Collar Tories research has more to say on this. Tories are often “Optimistic Individualists”, who think success results from hard work, want a limited role for the state, and confident about the future. But many undecided voters are “Suspicious Strivers”, who feel their situation is precarious and that their hard work does not bring the rewards it should. They need to know that economic recovery is not abstract, but they will have something to show for it.

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Owen also argued that while Damian McBride’s book Power Trip ought to answer the question of which is really the “nasty party”, the kind of behaviour it describes will confirm many people’s view the politics is not an honourable profession. Maybe… but it’s a fabulous read. Some passages I had to read twice to check they really did say what I thought they did. Pick up a copy at the conference bookstall.

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David Cameron was on good form yesterday addressing the National Conservative Convention, the annual meeting of senior party volunteers that I never miss. The mood was upbeat and the PM was keen to praise the party’s members. Let’s hope the unpleasantness earlier in the year is now behind us. He gave Three ‘R’s to remember on the doorstep: Record, Radicalism and Requirement. Doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue, but we know what he means. I think.

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Among our speakers at the ConHome event was Andrew Mitchell, who received a rousing reception from the crowd. Paul Goodman, the editor of Conservative Home, introduced him with the words: “what happened to you was disgraceful. We hope to see you back at the top soon.” Hear, hear.

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