The Tory party has been at peace with itself this week. Eurosceptic backbenchers have given Nigel Farage a verbal kicking on the fringe, Cabinet ministers have stuck resolutely to the ‘hard- working’ conference script, and even Boris Johnson has behaved himself. Gay marriage, which so divided the leadership from the grassroots, has barely been mentioned, and you’d never know that just a month ago David Cameron lost a Commons vote on Syria.
The new harmonious mood has come about in part because the leadership has moved towards the rest of the party. Tory conference was once decorated with posters extolling the benefits of ‘the big society’. Now, there is a simple Conservative message: ‘Welfare Capped: Immigration Down: Crime down’. Cameron’s own speech was a classically Tory defence of the need for enterprise and profit.
Lynton Crosby has also helped to bring the party together. He is a fierce disciplinarian who is both respected and feared: few wish to fall foul of his text-message temper. He is also close enough to Boris Johnson to ensure his good behaviour. When I asked a No. 10 source why the mayor had been so unusually helpful to Cameron at this conference, he replied, ‘It’s the Lynton effect.’
But the person doing the most to promote Tory unity is Ed Miliband. The Labour leader’s conference speech has reminded the Tory tribe of how high the stakes will be at the next election. The party has grasped that if Miliband becomes Prime Minister, he’ll unpick the Thatcherite consensus. A win for him would reverse many of the victories that the right in Britain holds most dear.
For the past three years, Conservatives have often talked as if the alternative to the current coalition is a radical, right-wing Tory government. Miliband has now delivered a reminder that, in reality, the alternative is a left-wing government.