Martin Bright

Conservative Party Conference Impressions

Conservative Party Conference Impressions
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I have to say that I found this year's Conservative Party conference a little lacklustre. I realise this was sort of the whole point -- the "no triumphalism" ordinance and the champagne ban were part of a conscious effort to keep the conference low key, But I do wonder whether the Tory high command overdid it. I came away from Manchester with the distinct impression that we were about to get a Tory government by default.

To be fair I left before David Cameron's set-piece speech, but the real temperature of a party conference is always taken away from the conference platform: at the fringes, in the bars and in the snatched conversations in between. The Tories are beginning to get a policy agenda together, but it is still fragmented and lacking in a binding vision. There's something there in the decentralising, anti-statist, pro-entrepreneurial rhetoric. And some of it is even quite appealing. But I can help feeling they could have done with another year (or even a parliamentary term) to get their act together. 

There are some impressive new parliamentary candidates (Joanne Cash in Westminster North, Charlotte Leslie, Bristol North West and Damian Collins, Folkestone and Hythe), with the right progressive credentials. But like their Labour counterparts, this new generation will take some time to work their way through the system. The shadow cabinet is beginning to coalesce but there is still no sign that Cameron will be able to count on junior ministers of any note.

David Cameron pledged to change the Conservative Party and he can't really claim to have done that on the basis of this conference. A Tory government would be made up largely of grey-haired men in late middle-age. There are still too many in his party who haven't changed at all. One grandee at a private dinner during conference was happy to express the view that the party had not really needed to change, it had just had to wait.

I worry that he is right.