The Sketch: Applause for the hard-hitting Ballad of Squeaky George

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The rain was tipping down over Manchester but inside the conference hall the sun still shone, fluffy clouds floated round the auditorium. See what happens when you cast aside cynicism? It brings spring to October, and the joy of perpetual day. Ah, the noble calling.

Tories woke to sceptical comment in the papers. A poll felt the party hadn't changed (the same question asked next week will be more interesting). Tory commentators seem to be embarrassed by not having been tough enough to date. But the party's going well. The tone is right, the manner is correct, the messages are good. Even "we're all in this together" is starting to work. George Osborne uses it to chastise the rich – that's when the slogan kicks into life.

But are they ready? That's the only question. Do they look like they could make a government? If you squint you can see Cameron as Prime Minister. It would suit him. But what would he do? Those policy things that people talk about.

Maybe there's a guide in the old saying: "It doesn't matter much whom you marry because it always turns out to be someone else."

I'm pretty sure he'd do those things you'd expect from a nice young Tory with a Treasury background. How about George – not quite Squeaky George any more. Where does he fit in? He was there in front of us yesterday, handing out the bad news. His role is to be the most hated chancellor since Geddes. It'll suit him.

He's found a way of exhuming bad news in a way that Tory England likes. He's going to cut ministerial salaries, the number of MPs, public sector pensions over £50,000. Applause. He's going to cut quango salaries and baby bonds – but not for the poorest. Applause. He's going to freeze public sector pay but not for the poorest. Applause. He's going to cut family benefit for families making more than £50,000. Applause. He's going to keep the top tax rate at 50p, and not bring in the inheritance tax cut yet. And that got applause as well.

They were applauding the loss of their benefits. Why? "Because we're all in this together." No, he's got it. He did it. This is starting to hang together.

And because much of it is being proposed by Gordon Brown, it's going to be more difficult to rubbish.

But it fell to Robert Chote of the Institute for Fiscal Studies to provide an explosive statistic at a fringe meeting: Gordon's cuts as laid out in the Red Book "are going to reverse by three-quarters the spending increases during the years of plenty".

That is astounding – the one great achievement of New Labour (to increase public spending by 50 per cent) is to be undone by them.

Why haven't the Tories been banging that drum?

I suppose they can only do one thing at a time.