The growing economic crisis has forced the Conservative Party to scale back some of its spending promises and delay tax cuts, a shadow cabinet member admitted yesterday.
The Tories will put the economy centre stage at their annual conference in Birmingham, which starts on Sunday. To avoid what Tory sources call "too much champagne and complacency", a planned celebration of the party's recent successes will be replaced by a sober two-hour emergency debate on the economy, featuring David Cameron and the shadow Chancellor, George Osborne.
Although some new policies will be unveiled in Birmingham, the Tory leadership is anxious to avoid a "firework display" that would lack credibility with the voters. Jeremy Hunt, seen as a rising shadow cabinet star, said yesterday: "The mood has definitely changed from last year. People are definitely not going to be interested in yet more promises of nirvana around the corner.
"We want to demonstrate we are a steady, safe pair of hands, a sensible, solid alternative to a government that has dithered its way through the last few weeks and last few years. It is about showing the country that we are a solid, sensible alternative."
Mr Hunt, the shadow Culture Secretary, admitted the Tories would now have to review their spending commitments. "It would not be credible to the country to say we are the party prepared to face up to some tough decisions and, at the same time, were not prepared to look over policies and approaches that we developed when the economic climate was very different," he said.
"If there is no growth, there is nothing to share. The number one priority is to get growth back on a stable and sound footing."
He insisted: "I don't think it's in any way a review of the principles. We have to be prepared to look at the details of what we said and ask whether that will be appropriate in a very different climate.
Mr Hunt insisted Mr Cameron would not have to portray himself as an "austerity prime minister-in-waiting". But he said: "The one thing people do not want in the current tough times is politicians promising the earth and failing to deliver."
He said he believed the Government's soaring borrowing would make it easier for Mr Cameron to head off Tory demands for tax cuts. "If the Conservative Party is not the party of sound money, we are nothing," he said.
Mr Hunt denied the new focus on the economy would put plans to heal Britain's "broken society" on the backburner. But he admitted: "We have to recognise the primacy of sorting out the economic challenges we face."Reuse content