Cameron clothes Tory line in language of aspiration
In ways, Cameron’s speech was a direct riposte to Ed Miliband’s address to his troops in Manchester, a speech that did much to solidify the Labour leader’s place.
Cameron, too, sought to put colour on the image that British voters have of him, one that, too often, leaves him portrayed as the out-of-touch standard-bearer of wealth and privilege.
In his speech last week, Miliband had contrasted his schooldays at a north London comprehensive with David Cameron’s days in Eton.
Yesterday, instead of seeking to defend his background, Cameron promoted himself as the one who can deliver opportunity to others: “I’m not here to defend privilege, I’m here to spread it.”
Pointing to his Eton schooling, he said: “To all those people who say, ‘He wants children to have the kind of education he had at his posh school’, I say ‘Yes, you’re absolutely right’.”
Taking a leaf out of the Thatcher playbook, he appealed to young people as they “sit in their childhood bedroom, looking out of the window dreaming of a place of their own”.
The Conservatives, he pledged, would help them to “reach their dreams”, a promise that may prove more difficult to deliver than it is to make, given planning hurdles and the lack of lending.
For some, his comparison between the strivers saving for their own place and others under-25s who go on benefits and “get a flat”, will be seen as simple divide-and-rule.
Indeed, it is, but that does not mean that it is not popular, since the Conservatives are on the right side of public opinion on the issue, while Labour is not – a fact that the party is trying slowly to change.
Opinion was divided last night on Cameron’s speech, as it always is, but it is clear that he delivered a fillip to delegates, one badly needed in the face of their doubts about the competence of both him and his ministers.
On the European Union, he threw some red meat to delegates about his much-questioned veto at last December’s summit, but he delivered no platform pledge on what he will do next.
So far this week, he has been careful to indicate the possibility of a referendum taking place after 2015 on the outcome of treaty talks that will bind euro zone countries more closely, but allow the UK to negotiate a looser relationship with Brussels.
Such a promise will not, however, suffice, given the distrust that exists in the UK about politicians’ promises on the EU.
He will have to go further before the Conservatives next go to the polls, a fact that he undoubtedly knows.
Curiously, he didn’t mention his coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats. Nor did many others in his team – and when they did, they were mildly appreciative but not demonstrative in their affections.
Significantly, they did not blame the Lib Dems for their failures to deliver on policies: to do so would just show “that you are not in control” said one Conservative official.
Cameron’s omission was, no doubt, deliberate. Even if his delegates continue to demand the Holy Grail of single-party government, he knows the political landscape after 2015 may leave him with no options other than continuing with coalition government – if indeed such an opportunity is given to him.
Mark Hennessy is London Editor