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Conservative Party conference: the mood

9 October 2012

The notion of “the mood” of the Tory party conference is harder to judge nowadays, when only one in four people here are actually Tory activists. But those I do speak to are quite upbeat. They shouldn’t be, really: the polls are pretty grim, the IMF has today underlined the depressing economic situation. But this has nonetheless feels like a conference fizzing with life. Crucially, this is because of the fringes – not the conference hall. The conversations in the pubs and bars are about events people saw  outside the secure zone. Sure, you might get the odd person talking about Osborne’s speech – which was well-received – or making Boris jokes. Or even Andrew Mitchell jokes: at a CSJ fringe, I asked Iain Duncan Smith earlier about rumours that Mitchell will be made High Commissioner to Rwanda and he replied “I hear there are no gates in Rwanda”. The room loved it. And it was a packed room, people standing even outside the door wanting to hear a politician’s thoughts on welfare reform.

The main attraction has, I think, been the fringes. A remarkably good intake of MPs at the 2010 election means the Conservatives have dozens of MPs people who are worth listening to because of who they are – not what they do. I tried to get into a ‘Britannia Unchained’ fringe event, where MPs in the Tory Free Enterprise Group were speaking, and you could not even get your head in the door.The above grainy picture is the best my iPhone could manage – the below is all that was visible from eye level.

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So what all does this mean? Perhaps that the intellectual leadership of the party has now passed to its back benches. The best ideas are coming from MPs who have actually achieved things before coming to parliament; people who don’t need position to have clout. People who can pull in a crowd on their own basis, because the have genuinely interesting things to say. Even Andrea Leadsom had people coming to hear her talk about QE. I find all this a hugely encouraging trend, showing a huge interest in politics – but more the politics on the fringe, not the politics being served up on the conference floor. And this is what the 2012 Conservative Conference may well be remembered for.

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Show comments
  • Bruce

    don’t give up the day job to become a paparazzi

  • Daniel Maris

    The thing about “moods” is that they can quickly evaporate under the impact of events. And events often relate to more fundamental tectonic movements beneath the body politic.

    The fringe may have been lively but the Conservatives seem to specialise in blowing froth at each other without really making any important and improving changes. They got really excited about “The Big Society” didn’t they? Does anyone take that seriously now? They got really excited about “localism”. Does anyone think that has had much impact?

    To become relevant the Conservatives should turn themselves into a populist party rather than remaining an essentially capitalist party pro mass immigration, pro-EU policies, and chipping away at working conditions.

  • Alex

    Whistling in the dark, Fraser. The real Tory Government is a shambles of denial, so it’s good that the crowds are listening to the Ayn Rand impersonations on the fringe…Tea Party Tories here we come….

  • Austin Barry

    The merry crowd at Tyburn springs to mind.

  • David Trant

    I’ve just watched Ann Widdicombe (Conhome) at what was apparently the best attended sideshow, ‘The Marriage Coalition, (she of course never actually got around to marriage) she freaked out! The rest of the audience seemed to be composed of the usual God bothering homophobes, that is the image I shall carry from the 2012 conference.

    • Colonel Mustard

      Well, as long as you carry it away from here and don’t come back I’m sure we won’t mind.

      • David Trant

        You’ve obviously seen it!!

  • David Trant

    So what all does this mean? Perhaps that the intellectual leadership of the party has now passed to its back benches.

    Nadine Dorries, Peter Bone? how inspiring!

    • Colonel Mustard

      Clearly the actual thrust of the article didn’t manage to penetrate your prejudice – or is it density.

  • james102

    I do hope you are right, as our political class is dire at
    the moment and it is due to them being just that: a class.

    We desperately need people to go into politics with
    experience of life outside politics and a track record of success rather than
    being chosen because they make up a quota from a protected group.

    The European social model will not last a generation as the
    demographics are now set, we need to start planning and changing now if our
    children are to have anything like the quality of life we take for granted.

    • 2trueblue

      We also need people who are not just famous but as you say have done something. Subsequently they might actually do something rather than ‘be in the Westminster village’.

    • telemachus

      Personally I want politicians to do their competent job
      Goverments are littered with successful business men who cannot cut it at Westminster.
      On a separate point
      Fraser feels the mood in Birmingham is good but the message out here in the Styx is one of gloom

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