The Tory party conference begins tomorrow in Birmingham, with delegates already making their way to Britain’s second city and David Cameron set to arrive this afternoon.
The pressure is on the Conservative leader David Cameron to deliver a barnstorming closing speech to the conference. With a year of solid poll leads behind him, the conference season is Mr Cameron’s to lose.
But in a sense the timing could be better. With economic concerns railroading any other news story, the last fortnight has been the worst the Conservatives have had for some time.
A recent Comres poll for the BBC suggested voters trust Labour with the economy and remain uncertain of Conservative financial competence.
Thirty-six per cent trust Mr Brown and Alistair Darling, chancellor, with the economy while only 30 per cent trust David Cameron and George Osborne, the shadow chancellor.
That simmering sense of uncertainty over the Conservative attitude to the economy is influencing polls conducted over the last two weeks.
A Comres poll for the Independent last Saturday cut the Tory lead in half to 12 points, while a YouGov poll for the Sun conducted post-conference put Labour up seven points to 31 per cent.
The Tories have two problems. Firstly, it appears they have not fully shed their negative image on economic affairs since the disastrous events of Black Wednesday, when the Conservative government was forced to remove the pound from the European exchange rate mechanism.
Secondly, their message on economic matters appears to be increasingly removed from the public mood. Recent calls from Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne for a rigid commitment to laissez faire economics have gone down badly when the general mood errs more towards greater government regulation.
The Conservatives appear to have taken the message on board, with strong indications the party will put economic priorities at the centre of the conference.
Events to look out for:
Various members of the shadow Cabinet, including Mr Osborne and foreign secretary William Hague will gather on the main stage on Sunday afternoon to discuss how the current economic climate is affecting homeowners and businesses and reveal the party’s plan for a strong economy.
That will be followed by the appearance of Boris Johnson to outline his vision of London’s future.
Monday begins with a discussion between Alan Duncan, business secretary, Theresa Villiers, transport secretary and David Willets on the Tory strategy for the business sector. Early indications are the party will stick to its previous anti-regulation announcements, with the event’s billing saying Labour has made it “harder and harder for our entrepreneurs and wealth creators”.
That forms the build up for Mr Osborne’s keynote speech to the conference around 12:00 BST, which we’ll cover in depth on politics.co.uk.
Mr Cameron’s speech on Tuesday afternoon brings the conference to a close. The pressure is on for him to deliver a blinder.
His scriptless performance last year managed to change the prime minister’s mind on whether to hold a general election, and is credited with turning the party’s electoral prospects around.
He had nothing to lose, and he produced a corker. This year, he has everything to lose, and he needs to dig up something new.
Stay with politics.co.uk throughout the conference for the most comprehensive coverage on the web.