Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Conservative Conference 2012 Review

I have spent the last couple of days avidly watching the Conservative Conference whilst doing lots of other things.  Here are my thoughts:

General Impressions

Ok lets get some of the negatives out of the way first.

The overall look of the conference this year is a small improvement on last year. Some of the weirder ideas of previous years (strange foreign dancers appearing between speakers for example) have thankfully been dropped but there are no obvious new innovations – a shame really as the format looks a bit tired.. It needs refreshing in a big way – the venue is not good, it makes the whole thing look old-fashioned.

Perhaps the most shocking thing is the lack of an audience. There are rows of empty seats for many of the speakers – Justine Greening was practically talking to herself and a TV camera this morning. In other sections I noticed that the audience included many members of the media and other senior politicians in many instances – perhaps Secretaries or State were wheeled in to try and stop the place looking empty..? This was a stark reminder of how badly the Conservative has failed to rejuvenate membership. New party chairman Grant Shapps has a huge job on his hands!

William Hague – 7/10

The usual authoritative speech from Hague - a great statesman. Not a barnstormer but a good steady approach that laid out some vision and gave the general impression that he knows he is doing and is getting on with it.

Phillip Hammond – 8.5/10

Philip Hammond is the Steady-Eddie of the Conservative Cabinet. His general demeanor radiates an impression of complete competence. But he went a bit further this time. He sounded passionate and proud of his Defence brief. So the usual words to describe him.. solid, dependable we can add.. inspiring.. Excellent.

Patrick McLoughlin – 8/10

I am not quite sure what Patrick said. I was far too busy wallowing in the experience of listening to a Conservative Secretary of State who is and sounds like a working-class geezer done good. Has he got any more mates? More on this subject later..

Iain Duncan-Smith – 4/10

Oh dear. This was very, very weak. IDS seems to be dragging around quite a large ego at the moment which colours everything he says and makes him sound mildly patronizing and like a bleeding heart missionary. It’s all a bit pretentious. He attempted to make a joke by saying the word ‘Balls’.. It fell utterly flat so he went to go on to quote a statistic, saying that 33.3% of people who had some of their benefits withdrawn had said they would think about looking for work.. Apparently this is a triumph and proves his skeptics wrong. What about the 66.6% who didn’t say they would work – do we add them to next year’s crime figures? Frankly rubbish IDS. Needs to massively up his game.

Francis Maude – 7.5/10

I am a bit of Maude fan really. He always delivers facts and has a fairly no-nonsense, staightforward approach. But one thing worried me. At one point he said that the Conservatives in government are putting in the ‘hard yards’ and assured everyone that the consequence will be that the electorate will realize this come election time and the Conservatives will therefore win… That’s a complacent delusion..

George Osborne – 7/10

I like George. He always covers all the angles and delivers a good speech. This was a solid performance. But.. George always seems to feel the need to come up another eye-catching initiative. He did it again this time coming up with some completely whacky scheme for employees giving up their employment rights in exchange for shares.. Just a pathetic idea which has been utterly exposed as an ill-conceived pile of of nonsense by the media this morning. Another Pastie experience which as usual, detracts from George’s general solid competence. Time he learnt this lesson..

Justine Greening – 6/10

Poor Justine. It must have been quite difficult talking to so few people whilst trying to look animated and as if she was talking to many in the hope that the TV camera would fail to show how empty her session was. Unfortunately they did show this. However, as I was probably the only person watching BBC Parliament this morning (I don’t imagine many people watch it) it probably didn’t matter too much. All in all I think next year I should save her all the stress and invite her over to mine. She can chill out in my kitchen with a glass of wine and at least with me and my two cats she is guaranteed an audience.

But seriously. Justine did ok but she talked a lot about why ‘International Development’ is a nice idea and reiterated the fact that she is spending more than almost any other government on it. She went on to say that we would get benefits back in trade when less developed countries became better developed but completely failed to justify the disproportionate spending by making an argument that we would derive more benefit.. perhaps the lack of audience was a good thing.

Boris -  6/10

Boris is the Circus act of the Conservative Conference. He is there to entertain and he did, to an extent. But I am not sure he did himself any real favours today. He was mildly disparaging towards Dave as usual whilst at the same time protesting to the media that he is not positioning himself as an alternative leader.

People like Boris’s authenticity – this element of duplicity and dishonesty will start to erode his popularity.. This could be the start of a downward path for him.

He said that Dave had referred to him as a mop and so he referred to Dave as a broom. Dave laughed a little too much. Boris was clearly positioning himself as a comparable ‘tool’ – the underlying message was that he is Dave’s equal (or considers himself to be.) All a bit silly really. Dave should have just smiled politely.

Jeremy Hunt7/10

A good performance. A fairly unimaginative approach but he sounded enthusiastic.

Michael Gove – 7.5/10

Michael again stuck to his tried and tested formula of getting people from the world of education to speak before he did his bit. His speakers were not as good as last year, or the year before, but still managed to evidence the success of his work as Ed Sec – so they did the job.

Michael’s speech was a substantial improvement on last year. He looked very relaxed before he spoke and when he did was confident, strong and fluid. He was more direct than before and looked and sounded authoritative – excellent.

Michael has cleverly employed a device to assist his image making. Some years ago I suggested that he attached a small aerial to one ear, in order that the media and the wider public, would think of him as ‘brainy’. After much deliberation he has no doubt reluctantly torn himself away from my brilliant bit of advice and instead equipped himself with some ‘gadget’ spectacles. They have a very similar effect to that which I, as his image-making guru, was attempting to achieve. I can only assume that I have been an inspiration to him.

Theresa May – 6.5/10

A goodish performance but a bit too much about general stuff and not enough about her brief. She was really playing to the gallery today. Trying to sound tough and uncompromising. I was really quite surprised that brought up the issue of extraditing Abu Hamza – surely not area in which she has covered herself in glory.

Damian Green – 5/10

The only memorable thing that Damian Green said was that Theresa May was the person who ‘locked people up’ and Ken Clarke had been the person who ‘had let them go’. He then went on to say that Chris Grayling would be the person to ‘throw away the key’.. I imagine this was pre-prepared theatre for the party faithful (few of whom are still alive and even fewer of whom were at (the) conference).

Received wisdom says that the Conservative’s are trused on law and order because they are tough.. Frankly I think this needs looking at. I suspect that this isn’t worth any votes because it also implies uncaring.. a pointless pandering.

Chris Grayling – 7/10

I have not been a big Chris Grayling fan in the past but my impression of him was raised today. A solid performance. Played to the barely existent gallery a bit but overall was balanced and thoughtful and avoided just attempting to ape Michael Howard – frankly just relieved that he didn’t say ‘Prison Works!’.

Tomorrow it’s Dave’s turn and he needs to pull off a good one. The general impression from the Conference is that the Conservative team are doing a solid job and steadily unraveling the problems and legacy of Labour profligacy and slowly turning the country around.

Unfortunately the general electorate will only get this message through the filter of a broadly hostile media – so may not get it at all.

Labour have exploited the hostile media extremely well over the last year or so and have managed to repeatedly position the Conservatives as elitist and uncaring and in support of the minority rich..

Their audacity is incredible but almost completely lost on the electorate. Perhaps understandably the Conservative’s in government seem to have largely ignored this and got on with the job.

But. If a decent working majority is to be achieved at the next election then I think Dave needs to push his head up and start changing the narrative. It’s too early to really start going for it completely because the media will get bored of a fully prescribed narrative that’s rolled out now by the time the election comes along.

But I think he must start to get people thinking by attacking Labour’s approach. Perhaps like this:

‘What do we hear from the Labour Party? Do we hear them criticizing us for going off on foreign adventures, starting wars and invading countries? No. Because we haven’t. Do they criticise us for selling off national assets and destroying our economy. No. Because unlike them, we haven’t.’

‘No. What we hear them complaining about is that we are a bit too…. .. a bit too….posh. Well I am…. posh. I can’t help it. But does it really matter? Are all of our efforts to put this country back on it’s feet after the disastrous mess that Labour left behind undermined because some of us in the Conservative party are a bit posh? Surely it doesn’t matter if you came from a wealthy successful family and therefore went to a school that makes you sound a bit posh. Surely it matters if you want to enable people from any background to succeed as we are now doing with our Education reforms.’

Essentially my point is to turn the Labour ‘posh’ prejudice on it’s head and turn it into anti- aspiration tag. i.e. the target group that the Conservatives need to win votes from to gain a majority at the next election..

Of course there’s one other thing that Dave could do. He could punish George for fumbling around with his eye-catching initiatives and force him to change his name to something less posh.

I think Kevin Osborne sounds much more ‘man of the people’.


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