In his keynote speech to the Conservative Party conference this week David Cameron told the party faithful that an incoming Tory government would be ‘ready to be tested’ by the ‘tough’ times ahead.
In a direct attack on a befuddled Labour government lumbering to the tar pit along a road paved with faction fighting, broken promises and economic chaos he said ‘Don’t you dare lecture us about poverty. You have failed and it falls to the modern Conservative Party to fight for the poorest who you have let down.’
If, or when, if the polls are to be believed, a Conservative government took office he pledged ‘If you’re frightened, we’ll protect you, if you risk your safety to stop a crime, we’ll stand by you, if you risk your life to fight for your country, we will honour you.’
In this, easily the best speech of an otherwise rather dismal conference season the message was clear, society is broken, the economy is struggling and social mobility has stalled; only pone party can turn things around and he was going to lead it back into power after thirteen years in the doldrums. Stirring stuff and, unusually for a speech made by a party leader made to an audience of journalists and party activists it seemed to resonate strongly with the wider electorate.
The responses made by the government and the Liberal Democrats to the speech show why at the moment nobody seems able to land a glove on Mr Cameron.
Liam Byrne, Chief Secretary to the Treasury called Cameron’s speech ‘emotive but deceptive’ and said that it ‘concealed the judgement that he has consistently got it wrong’ when it comes to tackling the recession. Danny Alexander for the Liberal Democrats said there was ‘a huge gulf between the sunny rhetoric of David Cameron and the grim reality of Tory policy’ and claimed that at a time of crisis they had ‘the wrong solutions and the wrong priorities.’
Both the government and the Lib Dems have misread, again, the public mood, by emphasising the tough times ahead and the traditional values needed to cope with them Cameron was giving the voting public what it has been crying out for over the past year; honesty. This stands in sharp contrast to the shrill and mixed messages sent out by the government and the inability of the Liberal Democrats to find a sense of purpose even though the greatest political opportunity the party has had access to for eighty years could be presented to them if the next election produces a hung parliament.
The media has made no better a fist out of challenging the rise and rise of David Cameron and the Notting Hill bunch, the best it seems able to come up with is an endless recycling of the ancient photograph of Cameron and his chums done up in their Bullingdon Club regalia and rumours about his youthful drug use.
There are serious questions to be asked about the Tory renaissance, such as, which is the real David Cameron, the stern defender of the poor or the media friendly Notting hillbilly who wanted to let sunshine win the day a couple of years ago? If he wants to challenge a culture that believes ‘for every problem there is a government solution’ and to fight the ‘steady erosion of responsibility’ that is a consequence of being dependent on the state, does have the will to devolve the power to change their lives and communities to individuals, many of whom are not natural conservatives?
At the moment these and many other questions are going unasked because the media is recalibrating itself to deal with a shift in the balance of power at Westminster and the only other opposition party lacks the stomach for a fight. As for the Labour Party, it looks ever more likely that their last month in office will be eaten up by the first round of a long and bitter fight between the tattered remnants of the New Labour project and the supporters of old style socialism.
With the party conferences out of the way and the leaves turning brown the starting gun for the election has been fired, they may not yet have it in the bag, but for the first time in almost twenty years Britain’s conservatives look like they have the confidence and connection with the public to win.