Downbeat but determined, the Tories' conference message

Triumphalism is out, consensus in for the party's annual gathering, says Andrew Grice
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Indy Politics

The Conservatives will promote their coalition with the Liberal Democrats at their annual conference starting tomorrow by making its slogan: "Together in the national interest."

The move to highlight the partnership between David Cameron and Nick Clegg will be coupled with a message that the Coalition Government is doing its patriotic duty by tackling the £155bn deficit.

Baroness Warsi, the Tory chairman, told The Independent: "We are working together in the national interest. That's what people most want from politicians – to stop all the bickering and point-scoring and work together to sort out the country's problems. That's what we're up to. We're taking the difficult decisions. We're making the tough calls. We're rolling up our sleeves and getting the job done.

"That's a great thing for our country – and it's a reason for every Tory to be incredibly proud. Patriotism has always powered our party. And I'm so proud that that's what we're showing once again."

Baroness Warsi said the Birmingham conference would also be special because "13 years of Labour are over – and at long last we have a Conservative Prime Minister in Downing Street".

But the Tory high command is telling activists there is little time for celebration. It wants the mood to be "purposeful" and fears that television pictures of champagne-swilling Tories would not make a good backdrop to the spending cuts to be announced on 20 October.

It is the second year running that Tory representatives have been urged to keep the champagne on ice. Twelve months ago, the party was ahead in the opinion polls but Mr Cameron was desperate to avoid looking as though the general election was in the bag – rightly, as it turned out.

"It would be pretty hard to totally ban alcohol at a Conservative conference," said Michael Fallon, the Tories' deputy chairman. "But I don't think the mood will be of celebration. I think the mood will be purposeful."

Tory ministers will seek to pin the blame for the deficit on Labour. They will argue that the forthcoming spending cuts are not being carried out for ideological reasons and will be implemented in a reasonable and responsible way. That message, primarily aimed at the public, is also designed to reassure anxious Liberal Democrats worried that voters may see the cuts as a return to the harshness of the Thatcher era. "We are not going to repeat the mistakes of the 1980s," said Mr Clegg. "It's not an ideological thing. We are not doing this because we want to. It's because we have to."

Danny Alexander, the Liberal Democrat Chief Treasury Secretary, and Don Foster, a Liberal Democrat spokesman on culture, are due to address fringe meetings at the Tory gathering. "We are not putting the Coalition on hold," said a Tory source.

A ComRes poll for The Independent suggests that, despite a Labour recovery at the Liberal Democrats' expense, the Government remains broadly popular. More people (44 per cent) are satisfied with the performance of the Coalition than are not (36 per cent). Some 86 per cent of Tory supporters are satisfied with it, compared with 62 per cent of Liberal Democrats and 10 per cent of Labour voters.

There are big differences across Britain. In Scotland, 53 per cent are unhappy and 29 per cent happy but the figures are reversed in the South-east, where 52 per cent are satisfied and 30 per cent dissatisfied. More people (44 per cent) agree that Mr Cameron is proving a good prime minister than disagree (32 per cent).

He is most popular among the AB top social group and older age groups. Some 89 per cent of Tory supporters and 52 per cent of Liberal Democrat voters believe he is good at his job.

By a similar margin (45 to 32 per cent), people believe Mr Clegg is proving a good deputy prime minister. He is more popular among Tory supporters than people who back his own party (74 and 72 per cent respectively think he is good at his job). In contrast, only 52 per cent of Liberal Democrats think Mr Cameron is doing a good job.

Among people who voted Liberal Democrat in the May election, 57 per cent agree that Mr Clegg is doing a good job and 24 per cent disagree. Some 71 per cent who voted Tory in May agree and 11 per cent disagree.

The Tories are holding their first conference for 14 years as the governing party. The number of people registered to attend the event is 12,500, up from 11,900 last year.

How the message has evolved

It's Time for Change – 2007

One of the better conference slogans. The Labour Party had changed leaders, but the Tory slogan implied that nothing had changed, and nothing would until David Cameron was prime minister. It was not long before the public agreed.

Timetable for Action – 2004

This was meant to convey the idea that the Conservative Party, under Michael Howard, was geared up and ready to govern after the general election that was expected the following year. No chance.

Opportunity for All – 1996

With the Tory government in its death throes no slogan was going to slow down Tony Blair's juggernaut that year. Even so, you would think that the best brains of the Conservative Party could have come up with something a little better. Like their leader, John Major, it was very bland.

Back to Basics – 1993

This has to be the most disastrous conference slogan. It was taken to mean that the Tories were promoting themselves as the party of old-fashioned family values, which gave the tabloid press an opening to expose one Tory sex scandal after another.