For four days this October Birmingham was the centre of the Nation if not beyond. The Conservative Party came to town for the second time in Government and I was filled with pride as they took over the ICC and Symphony Hall in their thousands. A Party Conference is more like a rally, time to cheer, opportunity to meet and greet fellow activists who share a common goal – the demolition of the other parties. I suppose it is also a bit like a flu jab, an injection of Tory insulin to protect you from the evils of Labour, the Lib Dems and of course the dreaded UKIP. This year as I leaned on the balcony of Level 4 and gazed at the throngs below I was struck by two things, the large numbers of young people – they can’t all be journalists – and how many men were wearing ties – those without we’re certainly journalists !
I suppose one of the most comforting things about this year’s Conference was the feeling of being with a crowd of people not baying for your blood, which seems to be happening outside the Conference, fuelled by a media more concerned with the frivolous activities of a few personalities than the real issues of the day. The audience rose as one to welcome William Hague, no Tory toff is William, rejected by the people for a Labour toff known as Tony. We warmed to his humour, his eloquence delivered in a soft convincing northern accent and we trusted him with our international diplomacy, even if we did not agree with every single word. Then we heard from Patrick McLoughlin the new Transport Secretary, certainly no toff is our Pat, a miner through and through from South Staffordshire. He told us he had not spoken at a Conference for 28 years – and in a video clip – who should appear on the screen but Margaret Thatcher and the cheers lifted the roof more than Simon Rattle could achieve. He told us how he had been faced with the West Coast debacle, how he had sorted it immediately and I think he will be the man to get transport moving.
Then we heard from that very pleasant, quietly spoken Philip Hammond, our Defence Minister and he was convincing, assuring and it seemed to me on top of his job. So we moved on to the Chancellor, the man everyone not at the Conference loves to hate. He is a good speaker easy to understand, but no rabble rouser and no great orator either but that’s not what we want from the man in charge of the money. He got a good welcome, everyone on their feet as we waited for him to tell us what we had already heard on the BBC and Sky. But you can’t cheer in your own home without upsetting the family and neighbours whereas at the Conference you upset the neighbours if you don’t ! George Osborne spoke with sincerity and honesty telling us what it was really like rather than what we wanted it to be like and, in words not capable of being misunderstood, the differences between a Conservative and a Socialist (which is what Labour tries to forget what they are) and a Left wing Liberal (which is what a Lib Dem really is). Whilst Labour remains in self denial “not me guv” preaching the same remedies that failed, the Tories are facing the reality of life and will stick with the medicine, tough as it may be, although many would admit this is a very selective recession.
Boris Johnson swept into town and appears to have been confused with a pop star appearing at the NIA. He is pure political entertainment, loads of laughs, a bit of a toff really, but likeable, gets straight to the point as he destroys the enemy, says what a great chap David Cameron is and sweeps out of town back where he came from – congested overpopulated and highly expensive London
In between the formal Conference sessions are loads of fringe meetings where delegates drink themselves through listening to MPs not important enough to get a spot at the main event. As you enter the ICC you are accosted by hundreds of leaflet giving, carrier bag giving, newspaper giving and other rubbish from well meaning activists from every possible group from the animal welfare movement to the keep marriage brigade, from noisy and unnecessarily rude trade unionists to a shouting rabble incapable of being understood.
So the Conference is brought to an end by the biggest toff of all, the Prime Minister showing off to a wider world Birmingham’s magnificent Symphony Hall. We loved him, we stood and cheered him when he came on the stage, we cheered and clapped every other statement he made, we stood endlessly and cheered when he finished. He filled us with excitement, he enthused us, told us what had been achieved and what had yet to be achieved, he spelt out the problems facing Britain, Europe and the World and he breathed the air of a confident leader capable of seeing the battle won. There was not a clearer distinction between two leaders – one on course to drag our country deeper into debt and greater disaster and David Cameron putting to the British people the harsh reality of the World and how his Government would, in time, sort it. I couldn’t care less where he was born, or to whom, or where he was educated, or who his friends are or were, I want the leadership of my country in the safest and strongest pair of hands I can find – and together with everyone else at the Tory Conference in Birmingham, he’ s my man…………..so there !