– Joe Jones
With eight months to go until the general election I didn’t quite know what to expect from my very first conference. I believed that our record in government (despite the coalition) was a good one; yet the party remained behind in the polls. I found Labour to be a party whose conference seemed not only downbeat but also slightly forgetful in some speeches when it came to the deficit!
This combined poll disadvantage combined with the threat of UKIP defections has, according to media narrative, marred the spirit of the Conservative Party, which should be expecting an electoral defeat anyway. But the media frenzy that was whipped up was anything but far from the truth at the conference. If the defections from Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless had done anything of consequence, then they had made the party more determined and united in the run-up to the general election. As for this apparent expectation of defeat, the confidence that ran through the party members was extraordinary.
There was one thought and one word on all the lips in the party that resonated loud and clear: ‘Five More Years!’
This year’s conference, in the ICC hall in Birmingham, offered the best and brightest of Tory talent. There was also room for those not directly related to the party who came to debate on key issues at the many fringe events that were scattered around, either in the tents around the ICC or at the numerous buildings on its periphery. For anyone who tells you that Conservative party is part of some ‘Westminster Consensus’ they have clearly never experienced a Conservative Party Conference like this one. The talent ranged from our Prime Minister, David Cameron, to White Dee, yes White Dee from ‘Benefits Street’, and even including Christopher Biggins. And Warwick Conservatives were spotted not just in the main hall but in fringe events about welfare to the NHS to the tax system, seen selling Ed Milliband beer bottles from the party stand, and exploiting the endless opportunities for free alcohol. It was an exceptional couple of days that whole-heartedly re-enforced my confidence in the Conservative Party.
The conference sprung into action with memorable speeches from our Party Chairman, Grant Shapps, and a heart-wrenching goodbye from the beloved William Hague. Later, in a typically British “go get ‘em” spirit, a massive campaign trip of 750 conservatives hit the streets of Birmingham Northfield in a display of pure belief in what the Conservatives offer.
The focus was on the economy and George Osborne led the way here, outlining his ideas on how to make the economy more fair (ensuring benefits would not overshadow a working income and cutting the 55% pension ‘death tax’). Earlier, Liz Truss (Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) talked about regaining the British food market and ‘putting the British Apple back at the top of the tree’. Sajid Javid (Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport) gave a rousing speech that included a discussion on how he retained the belief that British Culture still has strength. Patrick McLoughlin (Transport) raised cheers from the crowd when he spoke of how he had stood up to Arthur Scargill when the miner’s strike was called against Margaret Thatcher. Then came Ian Duncan Smith (IDS), who outlined his ideas for Benefit Cards in order to stop claimants from gambling and spending their money on drugs and alcohol.
Tuesday brought on-stage the two main contenders for the future leadership of the Party. Theresa May took a stern and hard approach to her speech, where she raised the hall to their feet with stern words towards those who are threatening the safety of UK citizens with terrorism. She established herself as our new Iron Lady with her dominating and serious persona. The patron saint of Boris Johnson, or ‘Bo-Jo’, took his typical approach to the speech, which I think I can only describe as a ‘belter’. He waved a brick around and gave us all ‘permission to purr’ at his enthusiastic and rabble-rousing speech, which shook the hall with laughter; it is easy to see how Boris has gained his ‘celebrity-factor’.
Nicky Morgan made her stance very clear on education and it is clear that she will carry on Michael Gove’s legacy (who received a standing ovation as tribute to his reforms and struggles in his time as Secretary of State for Education). An exceptional reply to Andy Burnham was Jeremy Hunt’s speech, where he told us ‘it is not Labour’s NHS’; it is all of ours.
On the final day we began with defence and foreign affairs, where Philip Hammond broke down his prior image of the ‘stern boring man’ and entertained the conference hall with his humour (poking fun at his predecessors lack of hair) and then striking harsh words on Russia and ISIL.
However for the top of the ‘big meat’ speeches, of course, has to be David Cameron’s speech. It was called his best speech, and I am honoured to say I was in the room because I, along with the rest of the crowd, was swept away with pride at seeing our Prime Minister at his very best. Michael Gove introduced him in his usual rhythmical tone, as he rode on the tide of admiration for his reforms (and of course the man he was introducing); then after a quick election video, David Cameron came on-stage. He banged out policy after policy, taking pride in his achievements in office, but at the same time, keeping in mind that so much more can be and has to be done. His tax cut promises will impact 30 million, and end of zero-hour contracts. That wasn’t all: the PM went on to tell us about how he plans to hold a referendum in 2017 on our membership of the EU, replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights and fix the unfairness of the English votes problem (whereby Scottish and Welsh MP’s vote on UK issues but English issues are for English MP’s alone).
These were just a few of the policies announced but one thing was for sure, the hall was behind him. The chant began as he started to leave the hall, ‘5 more years, 5 more years’; as it resonated around an optimistic feeling began to swell around us; I feel more and more confident that we can really win in 2015.
We are the true party of ‘one nation working together’ (as George Osborne put it in his conference speech). There is an overwhelming excitement now that we will be the party to cut the taxes of 30 million people, lower the deficit and put Britain back into the black. To copy the oft-repeated catch phrase of the PM’s speech: ‘A Britain that everyone is proud to call home’.
Joe Jones is a member of the University of Warwick Conservative Association