There’s a funny mood at this Tory conference. It has more energy than the Labour conference, but partly that energy is anger at Mark Reckless’ defection, rather than enthusiasm. MPs and advisers are jittery that another defection will come at another terribly inconvenient moment. A third MP leaving the party will suggest real momentum.
So George Osborne’s task when he speaks a little later this morning is to turn the energy that’s buzzing about the hall into enthusiasm for government. The Labour conference, for all its desire to get the Tories out of office, lacked that sincere excitement about the idea of the party being in charge. The Tories need to show that they’re not running out of ideas or exhausted by government, but are keen for a majority government.
It seems from the language that his fellow Cabinet members have been using over the past few days that Osborne is quite happy to be very upbeat about the economy. It will be interesting to see how he approaches the claims from Michael Fallon that Britain is ‘booming’ and from William Hague that he has turned the economy around.
But naturally the Chancellor has been drawn into the debate on Europe. He suggested on the Today programme that backbench MPs would get a free vote in the referendum, and argued that the referendum would answer the questions that have been bubbling through British political life for years.