The caravan rolls on to Birmingham for the last of the party conferences. As David Cameron packs his bags, he will be able to mull the advice on offer from all corners on how to end the Tory slump (and it is a slump, yesterday’s Sun poll put Labour 11 points ahead and today’s says Cameron most resembles a snake).
As Nicholas Watt writes in the Guardian, a resurgent Ed Miliband is the least of Dave’s problems, even if the Prime Minister “was impressed” by his opposite number’s speech. Number 10 still don’t feel that Mr Miliband is dangerous enough to warrant a change in strategy. Other impressions are more toxic:
“A series of weaknesses have come into sharp relief in the past six months. There is a feeling that No 10 is sometimes run on a slapdash basis with poor central control. Miliband's claim that Cameron runs a ‘back-of-the-envelope’ government struck a chord with many Tories. Cameron and Osborne have also failed to shake off their image as remote figures who are aloof to everyone bar their small inner circle.”
The advantage for Mr Cameron is that he gets the final word, but the pressure is on him to give a convincing reply to the Labour leader. He is helped by the growing realisation - as I blogged at the time - that One Nation is not a centrist alternative but a Trojan horse for Mr Miliband's distinctly leftist view of Britain. If Ed believes the centre has moved his way, Mr Cameron must explain why in fact he continues to represent the common ground, while acknowledging public frustration with bankers and those who seem immune to the demands of austerity and recession.
Then there is the enemy within. The Sun reports that Boris snubbed Mr Cameron’s invitations to stay at Chequers five times. More damagingly still, a source close to the Mayor of London told the paper:
“He doesn’t want to play happy families with someone he struggles to respect.”
Ouch. That isn’t all. Writing in the Telegraph, Dr Liam Fox slates the party as being run by a metropolitan elite which has alienated the party base and deluded itself about the extent of the national predicament. Dr Fox writes:
“Many [supporters] believe we are dominated by the political agenda of a metropolitan elite, and this sits uneasily with the social conservatism of much of the rest of the country. But it is nothing to the alienation that is being caused by the issue of Europe. Core Conservatives, and way beyond, believe we were sold a pup over Europe.
“Next, we must reclaim our distinct political territory and the lexicon that expresses it. To hear Tories talk recently about going along with a Lib Dem wealth tax sent shivers down my spine. To paraphrase Ronald Reagan: we don’t have a deficit in Britain because we tax too little, but because we spend too much... Let’s hear about meritocracy and social mobility, not about social labels. We need to see our society as a massive pool of individual talent and not a coalition of minorities. That is how socialists think, not conservatives.”
Dave is also under pressure from Chris Grayling in the latest edition of The House magazine. The prisons minister, who the Guardian report is to end Ken Clarke’s community punishments regime, says that traditional Tory voters need more “veto moments” from the Prime Minister on issues like Europe which require “bold statements”.
What Mr Cameron has up his sleeve instead is a conference speech titled “Britain can Deliver”, we report this morning. The theme is aspiration and social mobility, and Mr Cameron will lavish praise on the private sector. This will please some prominent Conservatives - writing onConservativeHome, Lord Ashcroft calls for the party to do more for those “striving” to get ahead.
It also has the ring of a theme chosen to show Dave the statesman grappling with the great social issues of the day. It shows his best side, but will it be enough for the base?
ON THE ROPES RAILS
Tensions between Westminster and Whitehall are boiling over, according to this morning’s FT (£), which claims that civil servants are furious at “scapegoating” by ministers. The row has also divided politicians, with Bernard Jenkin saying that “destructive” finger pointing has led to “angry and de-motivated” civil servants.
As Justine Greening and Theresa Villiers scrap for their reputations, both the Independent and the FT have named one of the suspended mandarins as Kate Mingay, a former Goldman Sachs banker. Ms Mingay, head of commercial at DfT, is believed to be the most senior figure of the three suspended so far, although the Guardian has reported that there may be further suspensions.
Every cloud has a silver lining, though, and in the Guardian Patrick Wintour reports that this fiasco offers the Coalition the perfect opportunity to push through Francis Maude’s civil service reforms. That said, as Peter Hoskin notes in the Times (£) better civil servants are going to cost more, hardly the ticket at a time of austerity.
POWERS FOR ALL IF SCOTS REJECT INDEPENDENCE
The Telegraph reports that the Government will back the creation of a body which would investigate possibilities for a new constitutional settlement that could see further powers devolved from Westminster to the devolved governments and English regions should Scotland reject independence. The Lib Dems are also understood to be in favour of the commission, although Labour are sceptical.
POLITICAL CROSS-DRESSING CONTINUES
Yesterday it was the turn of Mr Miliband and Boris Johnson to swap clothes. The Guardianreports that Mr Miliband continued his journey into the world of traditional Conservative standbys as he called for low-skill immigration to be reduced. Meanwhile Bo-Jo borrowed the old Labour mantra that immigration was good for the economy. The same paperreports that the Mayor of London called for the “best and brightest” foreigners to come to the UK and claimed that the immigration cap hurt the capital.
Next week: Boris calls for a people’s revolution against organised capital, Ed campaigns to re-introduce a property threshold on the franchise.
MILI-ONAIRE DODGES QUESTIONS
As we reportthis morning, Mr Miliband has continued to dodge questions about his wealth, prompting rebukes from this morning’s comment pages.The Telegraph’s leader calls for politicians to be open about their assets as well as their incomes, noting:
“If politicians are going to make so much of other people’s financial arrangements then they cannot be surprised that we are interested in theirs.”
Meanwhile in the Mail, Martin Samuel writes that Mr Miliband is the real posh boy:
“There are two kinds of posh. There is the posh you can see...Then there’s the other posh. Clever posh; connected posh; the posh that is so posh it can pretend to be poor. Ed Miliband got into Oxford with two B grades at A-level. Now that’s posh.”
Red One Nation Ed is obviously hopeful that the Conservatives will be too conscious of their own image as a party of privilege to go large on this point next week.
LABOUR PARTY TAKES ON 15-YEAR-OLD
Labour’s conference ended on a sour note as a 15-year-old girl was heckled by one delegate for saying that she enjoyed going to an academy school. The Mail reports that Year 11 pupil Joan al-Assam was shouted down when singing the praises of Paddington Academy, despite the fact that the school was a flagship achievement of the previous government.
For Quentin Letts, it proved too much. He wrote in his Mail column that:
“That is what it has been like in Manchester this week. The hatred has foamed like Fairy Liquid. The invective has been out of kilter not only with reality but also with Edward Miliband’s claim to be ‘One Nation’...The Miliband revamp is a British Leyland badging job, no more convincing than when 1970s car managers would slap a Vanden Plas badge on an Austin Allegro. Despite the fancy dashboard it was still, underneath, a rusting banger.”
HARRIET HARMAN TAKES ON PETA TODD
Fortunately, the conference gave a warmer welcome to a more familiar face. Our sketch writer Michael Deacon stayed to “the bitter end. Or ‘Harriet Harman’s speech’ as it’s also known.” He reports that delegates were even treated to a joke:
“In general you suspect Ms Harman doesn’t approve of jokes, viewing humour as some male, Tory trick dreamt up to divert the masses from righteous rebellion. None the less, she knows that at conference, jokes are expected of her, and is determined to fulfil her duty.
“So on she tottered, beginning with an impression of a Page 3 girl. ‘Hello conference,’ she piped, ‘I’m Hattie, 62, from Camberwell!’ To the relief of the room the impression ended there, jacket and blouse intact.”
The impression did not please the Sun’s latest political commentator, former Page 3 girl Peta Todd. She writes this morning:
“Sorry Harriet, but not everyone gets to go to private school like you did. Some people have a harder start in life. Some women don’t want to or can’t become a doctor, lawyer or professional whinge-bag like you are.”
A Conservative conference speaking slot beckons. Provided she can find somewhere to pin the rosette.
ASA INVESTIGATE SHAPPS FIRM
The Independent leads with the news that a company formerly owned by Conservative party chairman Grant Shapps is under investigation by the Advertising Standards Authority. The investigation concerns the allegation that Mr Shapps misled the public when posing as a businessman named Michael Green.
It understood that the investigation into HowToCorp is likely to be concluded today. The firm has already stopped taking on new customers. Mr Shapps says he has had no involvement in the company since 2008 and called the accusation “spurious” yesterday. Spurious or no, at least the Labour attack dogs will get their photo opportunity at conference now, even without Thrasher.
TWEETS AND TWITS
Following their respective efforts this week, nobody wants to be the British Obama anymore, it’s all about being the American Ed, says Denis MacShane:
@DenisMacShane:“Obama had better hire Ed M's prep team before it's too late ".
09:30 am: Inaugural conference by the We Demand A Referendum group. Speakers include Nikki Sinclaire MEP, former Apprentice contestant Katie Hopkins, former Ukip leader Roger Knapman and former Referendum Party campaigner Reverend George Hargreaves. Westminster Central Hall.
10:30 am: Judgment in Mau Mau torture compensation claim. Three elderly Kenyans will learn whether their case can proceed against the Foreign and Commonwealth Office which says it has been brought too late. The Royal Courts of Justice.