David Cameron and Ken Clarke were both received very well by today's conference and gave David Davis' camp something to think about. If either DC or KC face DD in the final round (which DD is almost guaranteed to reach) their capable and convincing public speaking skills will make them formidable opponents. Mr Davis, excellent on TV, is not a compelling public speaker and he bombed giving a speech to a Bow Group fringe event yesterday and again today, to Reform. Mr Davis' aides are anxiously already playing down expectations for their candidate's speech tomorrow (when Dr Fox will also speak).
Mr Cameron spoke before lunchtime and without notes. He emphasised his message of a 'modern compassionate conservatism' and called for social entrepreneurship to be as important to Conservatism today as economic entrepreneurship was to 1980s Conservatism. In a nod to the Cornerstone group (dubbed the Tombstone group by one cynic today) he advocated tax support for the institution of marriage. He concluded by advocating a course to a Conservative Party of aspiration, social justice and concern for the world's poorest people and he promised that there would be 'no turning back' on that course if he became Tory leader.
If Mr Cameron emphasised compassionate conservatism, Mr Clarke focused on economic competence. He spoke about his own record as Chancellor, about protecting the economic achievements of the Thatcher years and of the importance of low taxation for economic well-being. He blasted the way Labour had undermined the integrity of the civil service and parliament. Gordon Brown would be as bad an 'Emperor' as Tony Blair had been a 'President', he warned. No-one was more of a control freak than GB, he insisted, and also pointed to the Chancellor's arrogant treatment of colleagues and his obsession with headlines.
KC attempted to convince the audience that he was the 'Big Beast' that the Tories needed. He jokingly suggested that he was heeding David Willetts' advice to work harder and retire longer. He was the Tories' Prime Minister in waiting and had been kept waiting by the Tories for a long time! He concluded:
"I may not be everyone's cup of tea, but I promise you this. If you give me the chance to lead this party, I will lead it unspun. I will say what I think, and try to do what I say, as I have always done in politics."