Iain Martin's Conference Diary: Sunday
What an extraordinary coincidence that the row over the European Commission’s plans to allow benefits tourists to invade Britain should have blown up right on the eve of conference. Cynical observers wondered whether it was all down to news management by Number 10 and Chris Grayling. After all, there seem to have been no significant developments in the story and the only thing that has changed since the Commission proposed it ages ago is that the Tory tribe is meeting in Manchester. Might it have been cooked up by ministers to satisfy activists (rightly) hungry for a tougher line on Europe? Perish the thought.
Shaun Ley, presenter on the BBC Radio 4’s World at One, smelt a rat, asking welfare minister Chris Grayling: “Aren’t there shades of Jim Hacker and the EuroSausage?” Grayling denied it: “No, no shades of the EuroSausage.”
Grayling will go far come the reshuffle, expected next spring.
Those at CCHQ in charge of the Baroness Warsi rehabilitation programme have their work cut out. The chairman of the party has struggled in her role and there is an expectation amongst Tory MPs that the Prime Minister will move her on: “As far as the Chairman’s job goes she’s in the departure lounge,” says a cabinet colleague. Warsi is not giving up that easily, and has started releasing statements to the press again. However, I’m sorry to report that thus far they are mainly cartoonishly ultra-loyal feeble gibberish. Yesterday’s release had her saying: “The British people said at last year's election that it was time for a change. That's why this government is leading the way to a fairer future that builds a greater sense of responsibility and supports those who do the right thing. Although these are difficult times, we are going to stay the course. By taking tough decisions now, we create a better future for our children." Does CCHQ have a computer app that generates such stuff automatically?
A load of Boles
A very cheeky pre-conference article by arch-moderniser and former Policy Exchange head honcho Nick Boles MP appeared in the Daily Telegraph. He warned his fellow Tories that a move rightwards is a recipe for opposition and said Conservatives must put away their “ideological hobby horses.”
What does Boles prescribe instead? “Dedicate ourselves to addressing the everyday ambitions of ordinary people – a steady job, childcare they can afford, a home of their own – and their most pressing concerns – rising fuel prices, excessive immigration, the care of elderly relatives. Only by showing that we really are “on the side of ordinary people” will we turn the Conservative Party back into a truly national party.”
Hold on a minute. The ambitions of Britain’s striving classes, economic opportunity, rising prices, immigration? These are precisely the sorts of concerns that critics of uber-modernisation warned the Tory leadership they ignored at their peril during the election and in the first year in government.
What an audacious Blairite piece of spin. Boles adopts the arguments of his opponents and then tells them to pipe down.
No News is Bad News
For many years politicians and journalists have gone flat out to blag their way into the swankiest party at conference, that hosted by News International (Rupert Murdoch’s company that publishes the Times and the Sun). Last year Rebekah Brooks, then the chief executive, proudly shepherded the new PM around introducing him to other high-powered guests.
But not this time. Brooks has departed the scene after the hacking scandal and the News International management has decided not to hold a drinks party, fearing quite correctly that no politician would dare being seen to turn up. “Watching some politicians criticise us has been rather difficult to take,” says a senior News Int journalist. “Especially when one can remember them being so keen on guzzling our champagne.” Quite.