Leading article: The unfinished Conservative revolution

Related Topics

This time last year, most Conservatives, if informed that David Cameron would be in Downing Street by the next Tory conference, would probably have envisaged a triumphal victory rally in Birmingham over the coming days.

But the mood among Conservative MPs and activists, who gather in the ICC from tomorrow, will be rather more subdued.

There is unlikely to be much, if any, triumphalism. And the reason is that the Conservatives, in defiance of expectations, did not win a majority of seats in May's general election. In order to enter Downing Street, the party formed a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. This was not how 13 painful years of opposition were supposed to end. Worse, some of the policies most popular with the Tory grass roots – raising the inheritance tax threshold, introducing a marriage tax break and repatriating powers from Europe – have been dropped.

Despite the disappointment, party discipline is unlikely to fray in Birmingham. A key Tory policy survived the coalition negotiations: drastic cuts to public spending on an accelerated timetable. There is enough red meat in the Coalition's fiscal plans to keep most Conservatives moderately contented.

Indeed, this is likely to be the least interesting of the three main party conferences. The Liberal Democrat leadership had the difficult task of persuading the party's activists that they did the right thing in forming a coalition with the Tories. A close leadership election (and its emotionally fraught aftermath) dominated Labour's conference in Manchester. By comparison with the job that faced Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband, Mr Cameron's big speech next Wednesday will be a walk in the park.

Yet there will be some awkward and interesting moments in store nevertheless. The irony is that the biggest clashes in the Coalition have not been between Liberal Democrats and Tories, but between Tories and Tories. The hot battle between the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, and the Chancellor over funding welfare reform appears to have cooled of late. But it could quite easily flare up again in Birmingham, perhaps if Mr Duncan Smith makes a subtle land grab in his speech. Many activists will be sympathetic to the arguments of the Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, revealed in a leaked letter this week, that the spending cuts are likely to squeeze the Armed Forces too severely. Dr Fox's conference speech will be closely watched too. Meanwhile, the thinking of the Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke, on sentencing is unlikely to find a sympathetic audience with an audience more comfortable with draconian pledges than thoughtful suggestions of liberal reform.

But for the Conservatives, the crucial period of this Parliament lies in the future. Later this month, the Coalition will unveil its Comprehensive Spending Review, which will specify which areas of government activity are to be dropped as the Treasury enforces a fiscal squeeze tougher than anything attempted by Margaret Thatcher. Even those Tories who cheer on the Coalition's hardline fiscal plans next week will not like some of the consequences, particularly if universal benefits such as child benefit and winter fuel allowance are hacked back. It would be an exaggeration to argue that this conference will be as good as it gets for Mr Cameron. But it might well prove to be a moment of calm before a bitter storm.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Errors & Omissions: Outgunned by a lack of military knowledge

Guy Keleny
Ukip leader Nigel Farage in Tiny Tim’s tea shop while canvassing in Rochester this week  

General Election 2015: What on earth happened to Ukip?

Matthew Norman
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions