Editorial: A speech to rally the Tory party (un)faithful

Mr Cameron deserves to be commended for his efforts to lead the Conservatives from the front

Share
Related Topics

After six torrid months of U-turns, mid-term torpor and increasingly vocal attacks from obstreperous backbenchers, much was riding on David Cameron's speech to the Conservative Party conference yesterday. In the event, it was as interesting for what the Prime Minister did not say, as for what he did.

There was, for example, no mention of a referendum on EU membership – all the hints to calm prospective Ukip defectors having been safely dropped the day before. In fact, there was hardly any reference to Europe at all, barring the reprise of last year's treaty veto offered as a barely disguised quid pro quo for the less popular policy of maintaining overseas aid. Nor was Europe the only notable absence; there was also no tub-thumping on those other Tory staples, crime and immigration, either.

Mr Cameron chose his tone carefully, attempting the statesmanship of the Prime Minister rather than the showmanship of the Mayor of London, and using as his canvas the vast competitive battleground of the global economy rather than the inward-looking, "intellectual" politicking of the Opposition. He may not have managed the wow-factor of Ed Miliband's surprise barnstormer at last week's Labour conference. Neither could he compete with Tuesday's ex tempore flamboyance from Boris Johnson. But the Prime Minister's speech was a welcome dose of realism, nonetheless. Behind the hyperbole about Britain's "hour of reckoning" lies an appreciation of the opportunities and dangers of fast-growing emerging economies that is to be applauded.

True, there were no policy announcements, and no specifics on how the grand vision for a more globally competitive Britain "on the rise" might help the economic recovery in anything like the short term. But this was a speech as much for the party faithful (and unfaithful) as for the country at large. And, more than anything, the Prime Minister is to be commended for his efforts to lead his party from the front.

Refusing to be spooked by critics' claims that he is in hock to the lily-livered Liberal Democrats, Mr Cameron not only set out the most cogent explanation of "compassionate Conservatism" so far, he also resisted the siren calls of his party's right wing. With pressure from within palpably building, and the recent reshuffle creating a Cabinet that now looks more hardline than its leader, Mr Cameron might have taken the easier route. Instead, by steering clear of hot-button topics such as law and order, by chiding the Nimbys who stand in the way of new housing, and by talking stirringly of fairness and aspiration – with the rare flourish: "I'm not here to defend privilege, I'm here to spread it" – he set his stall firmly in the centre ground. An attempt to shake off the "nasty party" tag, yes; but also a reminder to the Tories themselves of what it will take to win an election.

In the immediate aftermath, praised equally by the likes of Nadine Dorries on the fringes and so redoubtable a centrist as Ken Clarke, Mr Cameron appeared to have pulled it off. But the speech itself was rather more convincing than supporters' talk of a new-found unity behind its content. Faced with detailed plans for gay marriage or building on the green belt, business as usual will swiftly return.

Mr Cameron's point stands, however. Yesterday's speech explicitly set out the "battle lines" for the next election; only by sticking to the centre can the Tories hope to win. And in this thinking, at least, the Prime Minister is not alone. All three party conferences have seen leaders tilting to the middle ground while the hearts of their loyalists remain elsewhere.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: KS2 Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is a two form entry primary schoo...

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Science versus religion in the three-parent baby debate

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Kylie has helped to boost viewing figures for the talent show  

When an Aussie calls you a ‘bastard’, you know you’ve arrived

Howard Jacobson
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee