This is a space for us to jot down thoughts, observations and what we have heard at the Conservative Party Conference 2011. If you have any thoughts leave a comment below or e-mail me at email@example.com. (ps, The wifi is sporadic)
8am: (Nick) One of the most difficult things to do at Conference is going to bed. At every turn someone you will know – or met for the first time a couple of hours previously – will wander by and say “hello”. I first tried to leave around 9pm but didn’t return to my hotel room until gone midnight.
As I said yesterday the atmosphere is good, and very friendly. Unlike most normal evenings out people’s eyes don’t glaze over if you talk about the difference between the deficit and debt, or how to fund ambitious IT infrastructure. Heaven.
Andrew Pierce in the Daily Mail mentions that the yellow tree on Conference passes is proof that the Tories have been consumed by the Lib Dems. The thing is the yellow colour is being used as a warning siren for us members as it denotes journalists. (We have green trees, lobbyists purple). There is very little moaning about the Lib Dems. Everyone agrees that the biggest obstacle to their ideas is economics.
10am: (Nick) - Can the Conservative Party represent everyone in Britain? Do we have a situation where people can judge political parties purely their policy, forgetting what class, race, religion or sexual orientation you are? The general answer to this question is not a unanimous yes yet, but there are many Conservatives who want to change this. Yesterday at the launch of the book “Tory Pride & Prejudice” Alan Duncan talked about the irrelevance of his sexuality in the Party. There are now more openly gay MPs in the Conservative Party than there is in all other parties put together.
At this mornings policy breakfast on racial justice, hosted by Max Wind-Cowie, Gavin Barwell said that he would like to see Cameron tackle Tebbit’s ‘Cricket Test’ in the same way DC has tried to consign to history the “there is no such thing as society” quote.
It is not enough for Conservatives to just critique Labour’s policy on race, we need a coherent alternative. The discussion seemed to suggest that this alternative is understanding that equality is about providing genuine opportunity to succeed, not diluting what success means. A quote that will stick with me is “quotas help white people feel better about themselves but they help everyone to ignore the deeper issues.”
11.45am: (Nick) I’m going to revisit a theme in yesterday’s blog; that the Conservative Conference is a Glastonbury for political geeks. Inside the secure area there are loads of fun happenings in every corner. For example, InHouse have created this funky gazebo where you can relax, chat or surf net, while drinking complimentary (thank you Total Politics) Starbucks coffee. There are stalls selling food, suit accessories (useful for those who may have left their cuff links at home…) and political books.
The queue to get into the secure area takes about 15min to navigate. On one side there are the protesters, hurling good natured abuse and giving out union sponsored leaflets. On the other side of the queue are people trying to get you to go to their fringe event.* By the time you enter the Conference center you are clutching a small forest’s worth of leaflets; half of them chastising you while the rest invite you.
Now, to join the rush to hear George. One of the top conversations in Manchester is about how to achieve growth. There is a lot of interest in what the Chancellor will say.
4.20pm: (Nick) - The economy. The economy. The economy. Everything is fundamentally about the economy. How we can get growth? (ummm lots of wide range ideas on this) How important is it to cut the deficit? (very very) What level of debt is acceptable? (depends how much pressure our economy comes under) How is it best to communicate complex financial matters to the busy majority? (credit card analogies are being maxed out).
George Osborne clearly stated that resolving the deficit/debt issue is his top priority. There is no point in cutting taxes in the short-term if all you are doing is loading up pain for later. He pointed out that the economic mess was caused by human error, before optimistically concluding that it is within our power to put things right; for the long-term. The hall seemed to accept his macro message.
Around the fringe there are many events with an economy focused theme, and many micro suggestions: The government should make child care tax deductible,
Deregulation is – to quote John Redwood – the tax cut that costs Government no money,
lowering the rate of corporate tax (and the 50p tax) will encourage entrepreneurs,
more transparent procurement processes will give innovators opportunity.
Finding ideas is not a problem. The hard thing is working out which option is best.
A delegate sat next to me at an Adam Smith Institute event made the great point that very few of the conversations deal with how the electorate/or Lib Dems would react.