This week saw the Conservatives in Birmingham for the last of this year’s major party conferences. It was different in tone to the others because being in office allowed speakers to announce policies rather than criticise them.
Nevertheless, given the stagnant state of the economy and a series of gaffes, speakers had their work cut out to motivate members and persuade the nation that the party has not lost its way, as the Opposition suggests.
Against this background the leader’s speech was crucial. He came to the podium like a tightly coiled spring that gradually unwound as he spoke. It was a deeply intense speech and arguably one of his best. Mr Cameron plucked some typically Conservative chords but his primary aim was to set out an argument about the country’s future. He celebrated the achievements of the Olympic and Paralympic Games but warned against the temptation to rest on our laurels. Nations that have dominated world affairs for generations are in decline and being supplanted by countries like China, India, Brazil, Indonesia and Nigeria, which are enterprise driven. He wants Britain to be amongst the latter not the former, a nation of aspiration and enterprise. That would come with hard work and innovation, education and welfare reforms, strong family life and working well together.
He dismissed critics who portrayed the Conservatives as a party of privilege and painted a picture of a society in which “it’s not where you’ve come from that counts, it’s where you’re going”. Education would be an essential plank in delivering this. There was no place for a culture of low expectations. He wanted every child to have as a good an education as he had experienced. “I’ m not here to defend privilege, I’m here to spread it.”
None of this means that the time of austerity is at an end. Indeed, the Chancellor and Work and Pensions Secretary have agreed a further £10 billion cuts from the welfare budget, though pensions and benefits for the elderly will not be touched. Housing benefit for the under 25’s is a prime target, whilst getting young people off benefits and into work remains the priority. Conference was told that the deficit had been reduced by 25% and one million new jobs had been created in the private sector since the Coalition came to office.
The London Mayor came to Birmingham and made everyone laugh but he also expressed loyalty to David Cameron and the Government. The Mayor of New York did the same, without the jokes. Conservative critics of the Prime Minister either did not attend this conference or reserved their criticisms for fringe meetings. The overall impression is that the Conservatives understand that to have any hope of staying in office they have to unite and pray that their policies begin to revive the economy.
As at the other conferences there was real prayer at this one and if we really aspire to rise as a nation, prayer is essential.