James Forsyth

Modernisation for a purpose

Modernisation for a purpose
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Just before David Cameron came on stage they played a video looking back at his four years in charge of the party. It concentrated on the modernising moments — the huskie hugging, the efforts to get more women into Parliament and the rest. When Cameron did these things, some critics mocked them, claimed that they showed he was all style and no substance. But today we saw what those moments have made possible. Cameron devoted his pre-election conference speech to a classic conservative message, that the big state is the problem. Crucially, this message is getting a hearing. It is not being dismissed as those ideological Tories banging on again. Modernisation has achieved one of its principal purposes.

Earlier this week a senior shadow Cabinet member said to me that the Tories had to do three things in Manchester: show that they were the party with the best plan for paying down the deficit, that they were a modern party who would put the poor first and demonstrate their radicalism. Two out of these three goals have been accomplished. The Tories are now far ahead of Labour in the deficit debate even if they still have a way to go. Tory policies on education and Cameron’s impassioned attack on the obscenely high marginal tax rates faced by those moving from welfare into work showed that the party really does care about the poor. On the radicalism front, though, I felt less convinced. Tory schools policy is bold but on welfare there is still a way to go while the rest of the public services agenda is relatively threadbare.

The news that Iain Duncan-Smith will serve in a Cameron government is particularly welcome. At the moment the reality of Tory policy on welfare is less impressive than Cameron’s rhetoric on the subject. But one assumes that IDS would not have accepted the offer unless he had been assured that his ideas would in some way become policy. If a Cameron government does welfare and education reform and implements the growth agenda that I wrote about this week then it will be a transformative, Conservative government.