Keep calm and carry on
So ends the third of three rather flat party conferences. Once again, the delight of a party back in power was dampened by the economic situation it has inherited, and the annual Tory gathering was overshadowed by events offstage. George Osborne left Manchester for the real scene of the action – the meeting of European finance ministers in Luxembourg – and the Prime Minister rose to speak just hours after the latest growth figures were downgraded.
Neither man sought to downplay the economic challenges. Indeed, stark reminders of them ran through all the conference speeches. The purpose of the week was to hold a steady course – undermined only slightly by a small row about the role of a cat in a deportation case, and a hastily rewritten entreaty to pay off credit card bills. Glints of optimism were offered to reassure the audience beyond the conference hall that the country is on the right track, but the central diagnosis was repeated: the economic crisis was caused by too much government spending; and the country cannot borrow its way out of debt.
If Osborne’s speech hung on four words – resolve, determination, confidence and belief – the Prime Minister’s was all about one: leadership. Emboldened by his success in Libya, David Cameron’s assured finale to another party conference season reminded us that he remains the only game in town. The contrast with Ed Miliband was all the more potent for being left unspoken – but the reference to the booing of Tony Blair’s name at last week’s Labour conference was a reminder that Labour are still riven with the introspective divisions of a party reeling from defeat. They came back from Liverpool having failed to persuade the country that they have a prime minister-in-waiting at their helm or that they are yet ready to be listened to again on the economy.
There was a contrast too with the position of Nick Clegg. The Lib Dem leader is being given more leeway to accentuate his ‘differentiation’ strategy and stress the contribution his party is making to government. This new accommodation between the two coalition partners has helped to reassure Liberal Democrats bruised by their defeat in the AV referendum and local elections this May. Cameron, with his stronger hand, no longer needs to spend time justifying the coalition, and used his speech to give a robust defence of policies such as his planning reforms which have attracted opposition in recent months.
But the focus on leadership left some unanswered questions. Cameron’s inelegant formulation that ‘so much of my leadership is about unleashing your leadership’ reveals the tension between his vision of a Big Society and the need for strong action to address the challenges facing the whole country. And so many of these rely on things beyond even his government’s control – the crisis in the Eurozone; the state of the international economy. None of the party conferences had answers to these. The government’s next chance to supply a meaningful answer will come on 29 November with the autumn statement.
Posted by Global Administrator
on 06/10/2011 20:39:34
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