Sorry about the lack of posts today but I've been in London doing various things (how cryptic!) and have not had any computer access. Anyway, this evening I attended the Cameron speech event at Vinopolis near London Bridge. Quite an experience, one way or another. About 400 people congregated in a dimly lit bar area to be served with lager, water or smoothies before the main event got underway. I was aghast to walk into the main auditorium to find there were no seats and we were faced with the prospect of listening to seven speeches standing. There was no podium and the audience surrounded the raised small circular stage. Boris Johnson got things underway in typically Boris style. As I surveyed the room I spotted a pensive looking Stuart Wheeler standing at the back. So I wasn't the oldest one in the room, after all. Other notables there were George Osborne, William Hague, Michael Ashcroft, Andrew Mitchell and Hugo Swire. A succession of younger fresh faces addressed the throng. Grant Shapps got things underway and was followed by Justine Greening, Margot James, Sayeeda Warsi, Zak Goldsmith and a sparky lady whose name I didn't catch who described herself as a 'social entrepreneur'. All were impressive and spoke without notes. Boris then introduced a film which he called 'Cameron the Movie', a sort of Cameroonian greatest hits video, which got us all suitably hyped up for the main event itself. In walked Dave to rapturous applause, waving to the crowds. I wondered to myself how this would look on TV, but having just seen it on Newsnight, it looked great. DC gave a relatively short speech and outlined the main points of the Built to Last document. He rehearsed again many of the themes which have become familiar over the last few months. The key passage for me was this...
This party voted for change. Now we have to show what that change means. Not just what we're changing from, but what we're changing to. We have to show that the change is real, that it means something, that's it's built to last. That's why today I'm setting out, in this statement of aims and values, what we stand for and what we're fighting for.
The document itself is far from detailed, but no the worse for it. It gives the Party a compass from which to develop a detailed policy platform. But we need be in no hurry to do that. DC was asked by the BBC's James Landale if he wasn't squaring for a fight with the right. He denied it and said he wanted as many people as possible to sign up to his statement of values. He also took head-on the belief that there is now little difference between the Conservatives and New Labour. He proceeded to outline many key areas where there is a chasm of difference.
But when people say there's no choice in politics any more, that politicians are all the same, I couldn't disagree more. There's a clear choice between our approach and Gordon Brown's. A Labour prime minister who says that only the state can deliver fairness, and a Conservative party fighting for people and communities, to unleash the power and positive spirit of our fantastic voluntary organisations and social enterprises. A Labour prime minister in Gordon Brown who wants the state to take an ever-bigger slice of the nation's income in tax and spending, and a Conservative party fighting for a dynamic economy, understanding that this can only be built by sharing the proceeds of growth between public services and lower taxes. A Labour prime minister in Gordon Brown who thinks that public services can only be run by the state, and a Conservative party fighting to improve public services for everyone through an understanding that public services paid for by the state don't have to be run by the state. A Labour prime minister in Gordon Brown who's said nothing and done nothing about the environment and a Conservative party that's put the environment at the top of its agenda. A Labour prime minister in Gordon Brown who will continue with Tony Blair's ineffective authoritarianism and wasteful ID cards, and a Conservative party that will stand up and fight as the hard-nosed defenders of freedom and security. A Labour prime minister in Gordon Brown who seems to think that Britishness is about telling people to plant flags on their lawn, and a Conservative party that understands the deepest instincts of our great nation.
The only part of the event which was disappointing was the Q & A. I often take the view at this type of event that anyone putting their hand up to ask a question should be automatically disqualified from doing so. And so it proved this evening, with the nutter question quota unusually high. I suspect if this had been a New Labour event all the questions would have been planted. I'm not advocating we do that, but it would perhaps have been better to have had no Q & A.
And so to the Built to Last document. There's always a degree of motherhood and apple pie in this type of statement of aims, but reading it on the train home, there is actually more to this than just a simple run through of traditional Conservative values. If you want to run through the whole document, you can download it HERE. Read in particular the words which are underneath each of the 8 statement of aims in the section What We're Fighting For. They are quite thought provoking, especially the sections on public services and the role of government. I was amused to see the David Davis line of 'standing up for the victims of state failure' given prominence. I could see DD's handiwork in the section on Security and Freedom, which was also highlighted in DC's speech. He made a clear pitch for smaller and less intrusive government and made clear he intends the Conservative Party to take a stand against ineffective authoritarianism. He said he did not want to live in a country with ID cards, where you could be taking your dog for a walk and be 'asked for your papers'. Hear, hear to that.
All in all, a very worthwhile exercise, which has had great media coverage and reenforced the message that the Conservative Party is changing. The emphasis now is on what it is changing to, rather than what it has changed from. And that is certainly progress.