Leading article: The unfinished Conservative revolution

Share
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

Solutions Architect - Permanent - London - £70k DOE

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

General Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Great opportunities for Cover...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The bustling Accident & Emergency ward at Milton Keynes Hospital  

The NHS needs the courage to adapt and survive

Nigel Edwards
 

Letter from the Sub-Editor: Canada is seen as a peaceful nation, but violent crime isn’t as rare as you might think

Jeffrey Simpson
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?