After one of the most eventful lead ups to the conference season in years, the Tories did not disappoint.
For members heading to Birmingham at the weekend, the news seemed pretty dire, with another defection to UKIP and a good old fashioned Tory sex scandal (albeit involving new technology).
Setting aside the lurid Brooks Newmark headlines, you might think Mark Reckless’s decision to leave the party on the eve of conference would cause panic, and perhaps a total meltdown.
In fact the mood amongst members in the bars on Sunday evening was that of defiance. After the shellshock experienced following the Carswell defection, the party moved on to the attack, with William Hague leading the charge, the Prime Minister threatening defectors, and the Mayor of London characterising those who chose to switch to UKIP as “quitters and splitters”.
Conference season last year saw Labour seizing the initiative. This year, the Tories were back on the front foot. The Chancellor’s strategy focused on economic competence, looking to cement the party’s position on this issue – currently at around 25 points ahead in polling.
Osborne delivered hard truths around the deficit, calling on voters to let him finish the job, setting out further cuts to benefits, and signalling the continuation of austerity.
The excitement continued on Wednesday with the Prime Minister’s impassioned speech. The content went some way to putting some clear blue water between the two main parties. With the Chancellor delivering the bad news, Cameron focused on the good.
Reading from an autocue, and not at all seeming the worse for it, the Prime Minister set out a number of significant policy announcements. These included help for first time buyers under 40, ring fencing the NHS budget, and a pledge of ‘English votes for English laws’.
The centrepiece, though, was tax cuts. The fact that these are so far uncosted did not seem to matter. This was something that Tory activists have been longing for.
It’s a signal for the future, and what the party hope to achieve if they are the sole party of government after the general election. This left those departing the conference hall in high spirits.
The Prime Minister took a risk. With so much of the Conservatives’ election prospects relying on the perception of them being the party who can be trusted on the economy, over £7bn of tax cuts with no clear indication of where the money is coming from threatens to undermine this.
It appears as if the risk has paid off, for now at least. A YouGov poll from last night puts the Conservative Party ahead of Labour for the first time since the “omnishambles” budget of 2012. Although it is unwise to rely on one poll, this could signal a shift in the balance of power. With the ever looming threat of UKIP – at 14% in last night’s poll – the Tories need this to continue if they are to have any chance of forming a government in May 2015.
Read our summary of how the conversations around the conference formed on social media
Explore the Road to the Manifestos – our guide to the people, processes and policies that matter in the lead up to the 2015 General Election.