Conference diary: Thank God it's over

CHarlotte Henry: 'This was a serious speech, from a serious prime minister, at a serious time.'
CHarlotte Henry: 'This was a serious speech, from a serious prime minister, at a serious time.'

By Charlotte Henry

We can all relax again. Conference season is finally over. David Cameron has addressed the faithful, assorted lobbyists, and the few MPs who bothered to turn up. All in all it seems to have gone down well.

To be fair, Cameron did have the perfect warm up acts. Olympic hero (and former Tory MP) Sebastian Coe was first, followed by New York mayor Michael Bloomberg. By the time the ever popular William Hague arrived to introduce the 'Big Brother Best Bits video' and the prime minister, the crowd were already in an upbeat mood.

Cameron chose not to play on that though. This was a serious speech, from a serious prime minister, at a serious time. Cameron didn't do the traditional start of a few jokes, but went straight into the business of reforms and the economy.


Indeed he adopted quite a personal tone early on, speaking of his late son Ivan and the perception of disability in this country. His voice genuinely broke, and for one gut wrenching moment it looked like he might actually shed a tear on stage. Samantha Cameron sitting in the audience did cry, with the BBC cameras cruelly capturing this rather personal moment. Cameron returned to his personal theme right at the end, referencing his father, now also sadly passed away.

These moments aside, the prime minister didn't mimic the overly personal nature of Ed Miliband a few days earlier. He filled his speech with substance, staring right down the barrel of the camera. He knew he had to talk to people at home more than those in the hall.

He clearly hasn't given up his Cameroon agenda either. He called the Conservatives “the party of the NHS”, and reiterated his pride in the commitment to foreign aid. However, he didn't mention or praise by name Andrew Mitchell, who until recently was responsible for that department, and was noticeably absent from the Conference.

Cameron was at his best when he attacked Ed Milliband head on.  Labour spin doctors will no doubt take this need to counter attack as a sign of defensiveness but, as in football, the counter, if executed quickly, efficiently and by the right players can be a devastating form of attack.

Unquestionably Cameron's best line was describing Labour as the party of "one notion – borrowing" instead of one nation. If that line was a bit Westminster orientated, he also had a very powerful section attacking the cartoon caricature of Conservatives, which built into his modern, compassionate narrative well.

There will be some things that make the Lib Dems twitch from this speech - talk of cuts to certain welfare, and benefits and so on - but I can't see Cameron having incited too many public battle lines on this occasion. He did though undoubtedly fire the starting pistol (see, I can get an Olympic metaphor in too) on the 2015 general election campaign.

After this performance, he just made that race a little bit harder for Ed Miliband to run.

Charlotte runs the blog digitalpolitico.net. Follow her on Twitter.

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