Fraser Nelson

The Tories’ great manifesto launch

The Tories' great manifesto launch
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Battersea Power Station is chosen as an allegory for Britain – “a building in need of rejuvenation in a country in need of rejuvenation” says David Cameron. As for Cameron’s speech – great stuff. He delivered the ‘empowerment’ message and gave hard examples, and wrapped it up into a greatest hits of his best soundbites (none the worse for that). It was so up our street that, at times, I thought he was working his way through the leader in the current edition of The Spectator. I’ll save my full verdict on Cameron’s speech and positioning for the magazine this week.  But here’s the rest of the launch.

The Tories went for an ensemble, with each of the Shadow Cabinet taking turns to read out the lines. The result was unusual, a political version of Starmaker, or Boyz II Men - although they didn’t quite hold hands at the end. The speeches were interspersed with some of the Tory videos: an old trick, to con the broadcasters into showing the party broadcasts. It backfired: Sky had neither proper video or audio quality, and I suspect many viewers turned off at that point. A shame because it featured what is now known in Tory circles as the ‘yummy Welsh mummy video’. She says “I guess I saw them as the posh party and I considered myself very much working class.” The video depicts an unusual version of working class life, but is very well-done.

Health. Less said the better. Cameron once said he could describe his values in three letters: NHS. I can do mine in four: BUPA. With the amount we spend on the NHS, you could put everyone on BUPA coverage and get a far better system. But this is an argument that I have lost. “We will increase spending year after year” said Lansley. We’ll see if what the IMF say about that when they do the bailout. He spoke about the Cameron proposal for employee buy-outs – a good idea. Let them make a profit, and then we’ll turn bureaucracies into industries. There is hope for Lansley: he may have spent four years sucking up to the unions. But the best comment on the NHS came from an advert Sky ran after the Press conference – the Medical Accident Group, whose business model relies on persuading encourages victims of NHS maltreatment to sue.  

“We will take power away from the state and hand it over to the man and woman on the street ... Crawl over public spending published online and expose the waste” chirped Caroline Spelman. Great words, but they rather lost their effect coming from so unknown a character. “If elected on 6 May, you will be in power 7 May,” she said. It’s funny hearing the Tories come up with 101 different ways of saying the Obama soundbite I suspect this is based on: “I’m not asking you to believe in my ability to change America. I’m asking you to believe in yours.” A great message, which sums up the Conservative mission.

Shaun Bailey, a true Conservative star (and a colleague of mine at the CPS) gave a video. He’s one of these poor souls who was adopted too early, so is on a real knife-edge vote in Hammersmith. He’s sound, and – like David Davis – he thought his way into the Conservative Party. “One of our many many fabulous candidates” said Sayeeda Warsi (who read her script a little too closely). But she’s right: the new Tory MPs have pictures of Thatcher on the wall and Jacques Delores on the dartboard. The Tory Party will be immeasurably stronger with them.

Gove impressed, as usual, speaking with fluency, authenticity and passion about the education reforms – and he even took an education question at the end, which is far better than watch Cameron wing it. You get the feeling from Gove that he does not regard education as a stepping stone to a greater career path, but that his mission in politics is to bed these reforms down. Blair had that in Adonis (which is why Brown moved him) and Cameron has that in Gove. But when Gove started talking about policing, you realise that Grayling is not getting his turn in the Starmaker chorus. As a fan of Grayling, I take no pleasure in saying that does not bode well for him.

The Q&A was excellent – Cameron is talking about nothing less than a new way of seeing politics, government and society. More of this in The Spectator out on Thursday.