As this morning papers’ show, the Tories know that their spring conference here in Brighton offers them a chance to change the narrative of this campaign, to get back on the front foot. William Hague’s speech, the first big set-piece of the event, tried to frame the choice facing the country at the election as being between ‘change or ruin’. Hague warned that if the country doesn’t return a Conservative government at this election, ‘it will be too late...too late to reverse the decline: the debt will be too big, the bureaucracy too bloated, the small businesses too stifled, the slope Britain is sliding down will be too steep.’ Labour will try and say that this language is shrill, a sign of Tory panic. But there’s a lot of truth to it. The question is, will the electorate recognise that?
The other big message in Hague’s speech was that the only way to get Brown out of Downing Street, to bring change, was to vote Conservative. This is a message the Tories need to hit relentlessly. They need to depress the Lib Dem vote and to scoop up as many protest votes as possible.
Hague also talked about the Tories’ positive agenda. After summing up the Tory agenda, Hague declared ‘This would be, when you repeat it and think about it, the salvation of our country.’
Just before Hague spoke, Eric Pickles addressed the meeting. The main thrust of Pickles’ remarks was to try and stir up election speculation. The Tories know that this is a story that works to their advantage. The more people talk about the prospect of Brown going early the more he looks like a ditherer if he doesn’t.