Tory conference as-it-happened

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Return of the King? Boris is attracting extraordinary support at the Tory conference in Birmingham
Return of the King? Boris is attracting extraordinary support at the Tory conference in Birmingham

 

10:21 - Morning. Quite the menu of speeches today. This morning we've got the Messia... sorry, Boris. Then Jeremy Hunt and Michael Gove. In the afternoon , it goes all NYPD Blue and it's Theresa May and Chris Grayling doing their bit. The Boris mania became so embarrassing last night the London mayor had to be explicit in his support for David Cameron during his rally. We can safely presume he'll stick to that approach in his speech today, although it was only yesterday he was writing in the Telegraph how the Tories needed to attract more middle-class voters. You can't really predict him. But one things for sure: The rank-and-file love him. The strength of the applause he receives today will be the greatest embarrassment for Cameron. Boris kicks off at 11am.

10:52 - We've missed Justine Greening's speech on international development. I know, I know. How to get over the psychological implications.... If you need to use up a little time before Boris might I nudge you in the direction of Alex Stevenson's Tory conference podcast. And here's my blog on the enduring idiocy of Chris Grayling.

11:01 - OK, here we go.


11:03 - Gavin Barwell, a boy in the form of a man, is introducing him. "He is an optimist," he says. "He routed the doubters and scattered the gloomsters." 

11:04 - Boris comes on with inspirational music behind him. The hall is packed. He gets a standing ovation. "Thank you for that magnificently hyperbolical introduction," he starts.

11:05 - He celebrates Tories who went up the Ho Chi Ming trail into Hackney. "If we can win in the middle of a recession and wipe out a 17-point Labour lead I know Cameron will win in  2015. Where is he? He must be here. Ah, there he is! When people are benefitting from jobs and growth."

11:07 - Boris goes on to compare various ministers to household products - brooms and pans. It's mental, but weirdly internally coherent. He described the gloom leading into the Olympics and then the way "endorphins flowed through the crowds like a benign contagion until everyone was infused with a Ready Breck glow of happiness".

11:09 - He says Brits were surprised to do the Olympics so well. "Here was little old us putting on the most flawless performance. I want you to hold that thought and remember that feeling of surprise. We have a tendency in  this country to underestimate what we can do. We are a creative can-do country." he even thanks Ken Livingstone for the Olympics There is a smatter of applause. "You'll never come back from that one Ken. You just got applause at a Tory party conference. If that doesn't finish you, nothing will."

11:12 - Boris issues a mandatory "strivers" quote. "As Napoleon almost said, Britain is a nation of small and medium sized enterprises."

11:14 - Boris says he is proud to have expanded the London living wage, but insists he did it voluntarily. He says he protected or expanded every travel concession. He tries to apologise to Labour-run Birmingham and then adds that he "periodically" is asked to apologise to several cities, winning a warm laugh.

11:15 - There's one all-purpose cure to poverty. A job. "The self-esteem, the excitement, the fun, the interaction that a job can offer - before you even talk about the money," he says. London makes a lot of jobs but they don't always go to the kids who grow up in London. He says Gove's free schools revolution will fix this by creating "wonderful new places of learning". He is very keen on Toby Young's free school because it teaches Latin. He uses that to mock Cameron for not knowing what Magna Carta meant. "I know you knew that anyway," he adds, really quite cheekily. The tone he addresses Cameron in is interesting. At best, it is equal. It even seems a little superior. Warm, but superior.

11:19 - More from Boris about "strivers" as he says he wants to help people on £30K to £65K get on the housing ladder.  He admits his new Route-masters are now here to be seen in London. I can vouch for this. I've seen one. One. Still Boris makes light, saying Ken promised the return of conductors. "We don't just keep our promises, we keep Labour promises too." He celebrates the fact it is used in the UK, with cutting edge British technology. 

11:24 - Boris tries to sell the dynamism of London by suggesting that in Soho you find young people... The audience chuckle. "hold on," he says. "That's no longer true. You find young people working in  the film industry." The audience burst into laughter and applause. Boris makes the (true) point, that Soho studios are making many of the digital effects in Hollywood films. He insists the Gangnam Style music video is watched in Korea using British aerials.  

11:28 - "The prime minister and I danced Gangnam style the other day".

11:29 - "We've got the right government in Westminster," he says. He fought off "car-hating bendy-bus fetishists" and now he'll fight to stop the two Eds, who are unrepentant about their excess. We need to go from excess, to austerity, to enterprise.

11:31 - He finishes. Massive standing ovation. "Thanks everybody," he says desperately, trying to keep it down. Half the hall empties as he leaves the stage. 

11:33 - Overall, Boris stuck to the approach he adopted yesterday. He carefully stayed away from Cameron's toes. He gave enough praise to ensure the headlines didn't focus on his threat to the PM. But then, it's rarely been his style to attack in such a public forum. Instead, he usually pens a newspaper article or gives an interview. The most interesting aspect of his approach to Cameron was the tone. As London mayor, outside the parliamentary bubble, he can afford to show less deference. But he bordered on superiority.

11:41 - Jeremy Hunt is coming up next. The background for his tenure as health secretary is simple: It started with astonishment, that this figure who had been disgraced by the phone-hacking and BSkyB row had managed to stay in Cabinet. It continued in bemusement that he went off on holiday for the first few weeks of his tenure. And it then progressed to outrage, when Hunt said he wanted the abortion limit reduce to just 12 weeks.

11:44 - He's up. Hunt talks about how proud of it he is. 

11:45 - He is a charisma vacuum. Of course, we knew this. He's like Peter Pan in an adults' world. But following Boris is just cruel. He comes across as doubly tepid and deceptive.

11:46 - In a bizarre aside, Hunt says the NHS doesn't belong to Labour anymore than the Second World War belongs to the Tories and it's "an insult" to claim otherwise.  He says Lansley's reforms are "brave, they are right and they will make our NHS stronger".

11:49 - I have seen far more conference speeches than I'd care to remember, but this is one of the worst. Hunt attacks Burnham, his opposite number.. He's probably right, but his delivery is so half-hearted, the fear in his eyes so blatant, his body-language so passive and non-committal, that it makes Burnham looks like a towering Churchillian figure in comparison.

11:53 - I'm running out of descriptions for the lack of inspiration Hunt is creating in his audience. Oh, there is actually a bit of applause there, for a demand for good care - plainly a controversial opinion. He wants managers to be held accountable for the care they provide. Next year hospitals will be assessed by how many patients would recommend it to friends and families.

11:55 - Finally Hunt moves on, painfully, to the "technology revolution". Why can we access bank balances online but not medical records? This question has never occurred to me, and it is seemingly pointless. He also wants prescriptions delivered to the home and praises "the better response you get from technology". What does that actually mean? Has he ever tried using a Tesco's automatic checkout?

12:00 -Hunt finishes his speech promising the best health care in the world. Lansley seems pleased. He nods to a woman next to him. He tries to make eye contact with someone, but fails. It's easy to feel a little sorry for him, actually. It's Gove up next. Chris Skidmore, Tory MP, cloned by some terrible machine, attacks that Labour delegate who heckled the school girl last week. he pretends it's a Labour problem, which is rather unfair. I am a good guide for these things. I try never to be fair to any of them. One delegate does not a party characteristic make.

12:03 - Gove is on, wearing some spiffing glasses. He looks more bizarre than usual, and he usually looks very bizarre. His suit seems to big so it looks like a schoolmaster's gown. His body language is, as ever, jerky and unpredictable, like a rare bird.

12:08 - Sorry for the pause, but Liam Nolan, a headteacher , is giving a speech, I suppose to highlight the success of Gove's free schools programme. Enjoyably, he talks to Tory delegates like schoolchildren.

12:13 - Christ it just goes on and on. The head has now introduced another principle, a parent and the head boy and girl. I always hated head boys and girls. Over-achievers.  Their academy may be great, but by rolling the children on it looks more like a Stalinist show trial than a genuine outpouring of educational accomplishment.

12:18 - Gove is back. Thank God that's over, although this might not be better. Gove is engaging when he shows his true personality - dry, wry, smart, oddly bombastic. Now he is doing the forced eagerness that comes with a ministerial brief. 

12:20 - He suggests schools need freedoms. These freedoms were restricted to paid schools, now they are available to every child. Some fee paying schools have decided they want to be part of the movement, he says. Gove learnt the old Clinton trick of turning a pointed finger (looks aggressive and superior) into a pointed knuckle. He now waves it like a violent wand.

12:22 - There is a dark secret at the heart of the English education system, he says. It is inequality. We have one of the most stratisfied education system in the developed world. Poor people usually go to poor schools and stay poor. He makes a good case that this is "a scandal, a reproach for all of our consciences". He adds: "I pledge to end it."

12:26 - Gove becomes somewhat less convincing listing the achievements of free schools so far. He claims ten-year-olds learning English are learning Macbeth and reading Hard Times in their lunch break. I'd want a fact check on that. 

12:29 - Gove celebrates, in a way that is entirely reassuring, cultures of strict discipline. Tories cheer. I always imagine there are more sexual eccentriticities at Tory conferences than at either of the two which precede them. 

12:30 - Gove returns to good form in his attack on the "soft bigotry of low expectations". That's a good line. He now turns on the unions. He says he has friends in unions - a little bit too much like "some of my best friends are black". He says he wants teachers to be more respected, but general secretaries of trade unions are "making it very difficult". he says they tell teachers not to cover classes when a colleague is ill. They want perfunctory reports to parents. His message to them is this: "Don't let your ideology hold back our children." The  emotion appears to get the better of him  for a moment. The line is delivered with a tad more passion than is strictly respectable.

12:33 - Gove thanks his ministers and David Laws and Sarah Teather, the Lib Dem colleagues in the education department. He says he wants a Tory majority but insists they are more likely to get it if they can show they act in a "civilised way" with people. That was a very interesting line. A bit of a warning to the rank-and-file agitating for fights with Clegg and co.

12:35 - The education secretary finishes by saying "Britain can deliver" - the conference slogan. Well that was good enough: better than Hunt, worse than Boris. OK, I'll take a short break now, but we'll be back in the afternoon for Theresa May and Chris Grayling. Not unlike a zombie movie. Before I go I'll post up some speeches in full for you - curious lunchtime reading for a curious readership.

12:38 - Here's Jeremy Hunt and here's Boris Johnson.

12:38 - Here's Jeremy Hunt and here's Boris Johnson.

14:00 - I'm back. There's no activity at on the conference stage yet, but you may want to wile away the time by watching the Australian prime minister dismantle the leader of the opposition for misogyny. 

14:02 - Rather closer to home, here's our correspondent's sketch from the Boris speech.

14:16 - Not for the first time, there are reports of whispers about Andrew Mitchell's future. Some think he's set to lose his job when MPs head back to Westminster next week. An Express journo just tweeted this: "Growing chatter about Mitchell future: 'The chief whip has become the story and the chief whip's job is to not be the story.'" here are also reports MPs have been contacting Graham Brady, the chairman of the backbench Tory 1922, asking about how to end Mitchell's tenure. the former international al development secretary could also be in trouble for reversing a cut to Rwanda, following concerns about human rights. Sir Malcolm Bruce, chairman of the international development committee, reportedly thinks there are “questions to answer” and is convening a meeting next week, with a view to a full inquiry later. You can read my take on Mitchell's Rwanda problem here.

14:37 - Theresa May is about to come on.

14:39 - And we're off. I have always hated the way May dresses and today is a case in point. It is a sort of brown bag, like an adapted garden product. She looks dreadful in it. She looks dreadful in everything. And yes, before you ask, I do say this about what the men wear.

14:41 - May reminds delegates they will soon be facing the country again as they seek - she sounds slightly disbelieving - a majority in parliament. She is delivering a robustly right-wing speech: immigration, Europe, crime - all the key bases.

14:43 - Oddly enough, she now talks the deficit. She's properly off topic, really going round the houses. "To those who think 'if only we turned the tap back on and everything would be better'" she says, he should remember Thatcher . She quotes a standard mantra on irresponsible economics being unkind to the vulnerable.

14:44 – May is a boring speaker. She is no Hunt. She's competent. But she is unconvincing and uninspiring. She is now on immigration and demanding an apology from Miliband for Labour's record. She defends cutting down on immigration, although she says the "liberal elites" don't understand the arguments. 

14:48 - May claims Labour was deliberately using immigration to keep down British wages. It's a major claim and one which doesn't stack up. She cites Jon Cruddas as the source and tries to attach Miliband's name to it.

14:49 - May bravely refers back to her speech last year, which saw her argue with ken Clarke about the immigration cat. She seems triumphant when she says she is now lessening human rights concerns on immigration. She says claiming international students as "our best export product" is a "counsel of despair". I'm not entirely sure I follow her. I think I'd rather like to have a world -class education system as our main export. Anyway, she finishes with the immigration rant, none of which really made sense.

14:53 - Oh, she's on drugs. She insists they are not a victimless crime. It's interesting the view on drugs is changing so much she even feels the need to defend her approach. 

14:55 - On the snoopers charter, May goes into defence mode. She says she has done a lot for civil liberties but she doesn't want "terrorists and paedophiles" getting away scott free. "We are the Conservative party, not the libertarian party. We will always be the party of law and order."

14:57 - The speech remains defensive as she moves onto police reform. The police, you may know, detest May and do their best to humiliate her at their own conferences. She promotes the police and crime commissioner elections in mid-November, calling them "big elections". I will predict now that they get turn out of less than 25%.

14:58 - She spells out the commissioner's powers, which are vague and strange. All very bobby on the beat about bringing people together.

15:01 - Now she attacks Labour's candidates, saying its the "last reunion tour" of "lord Prescott and the has-beens". This is delivered, predictably, with no comic timing at all. I'm struggled to main attention, frankly. I have no idea what you're still doing here. "Go out and tell people to vote Conservative," she says. "The party that will take the fight to the criminals. The party of law and order. And the party that will win the next general election." And with that, mercifully, she ends.

 

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