DAVID Cameron’s speech was aimed at marrying together the best qualities of the two traditions of modern Conservatism – the radical reforming spirit of the Thatcherite right, and the caring of the One Nation wets.
It was an attempt to show his party and the country that Conservatives can bring dramatic changes and do tough things such as the austerity measures and welfare cuts, but be motivated by compassion.
The task was, and remains, a hard sell for a party which this week was clearly unhappy with the way things are progressing with the economy, social agenda and being tied together with the Liberal Democrats. Noticeably, the Lib Dems were not mentioned at all in the speech, as Mr Cameron focused on Conservative, not coalition, values. Quite a contrast to Nick Clegg’s hour-long justification of being in with the Tories in Brighton two weeks ago.
After Andrew Mitchell and “plebgate” and the Boris Johnson roadshow, Cameron needed to reassert his authority and rehumanise his party. It was in some ways defensive, following Ed Miliband’s overt attempt to take the middle ground, and Cameron made no secret of his desire to reclaim the One Nation brand. But like Miliband, the Prime Minister also tried to show his soul to the public, almost welling up when he talked about his dead son Ivan, and how pleased he was the Paralympics had helped people see the boy and not the wheelchair.
With two and a half years to go before the election, it seems a difficult task to take his party to victory against a background of unremitting austerity and a constant promise of less from the public purse. But Tory high command hopes that what was probably his best conference speech as prime minister has started that process.