Isabel Hardman Isabel Hardman

Conservative conference: Patrick McLoughlin wrestles the One Nation mantle from Miliband

Patrick McLoughlin was the obvious choice to confront Ed Miliband as the Labour leader tries to steal the ‘One Nation’ mantle from the Conservative party. The former miner opened his speech by remarking that the last time he had addressed conference was 28 years ago. He then invited delegates to watch a video of this speech, delivered when the Transport Secretary was a young man, telling Margaret Thatcher that he was proud to be a ‘Tory scab’ who crossed picket lines. He then underlined that in the class war that Miliband tried to ignite last week, McLoughlin was the winner:

‘I am the son of a miner. I am the grandson of a miner. I was born in Staffordshire and I went to work in the Staffordshire coalfield just up the road from here. And before I go on, I want to make one point clear. If you want to understand One Nation, Mr Miliband, I’ll show you One Nation. He is standing at this podium. I am a One Nation Tory.’

He included warm words for David Cameron and George Osborne, who he praised as being part of a government that has ‘the fight, the determination, the vision to take the tough choices that will get out country back to strength’. It was striking that the applause for this section wasn’t exactly overwhelming.

The Transport Secretary also had a number of sores to address in his speech. He mentioned the West Coast Mainline fiasco as quickly as he possibly could, saying:

‘As Transport Secretary, I’ll be doing my bit. I don’t hide from the challenge. There will be setbacks as well as successes. Last week, when we hit one on the West Coast line, I came straight out and confronted it. And we will put things right.

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