IN the run-up to this conference, Tory strategists promised a more upbeat tone. Ed Miliband’s claim that Labour is the optimistic alternative to the dour coalition cutters appears to have hit home.
The Conservatives have done their best to trot out popular announcements on high-speed rail and education scholarships for the armed forces, but these are just old policies re-heated to provide some conference cheer.
The only substantive thing the government announced yesterday was cuts to child benefit for higher rate tax payers and a cap on benefits for the unemployed.
Try as they might, the spinners can’t put a positive gloss on that. “We would really have liked to come to conference with loads of goodies to announce, but the cupboard is bare,” a senior party strategist moaned.
BOJO KNOCKS ‘EM DEAD
With delegates down in the doldrums, Boris Johnson is only too keen to provide a spot of light relief.
The most popular fringe event so far has been the Rally for Boris, organised by grassroots website ConservativeHome (sadly, the New Statesman held its own, poorly attended, party at the same time).
And yesterday, the London Mayor delivered a barnstorming speech with inimitable bluster and bombast: the crowd lapped it up.
He took no prisoners, in a speech that hit out a trade unionists – much to the mirth of his audience – but also warned central government to spare London from the worst of swingeing cuts.
“If you come to City Hall, I can show you the physical evidence of the cuts we have been making,” Boris said in what sounded like a direct invitation to the chancellor.”
He added: “A whole Marie Celeste floor of deserted desks waiting to be rented out to another agency”.
David Cameron’s aides insist he is completely relaxed about Boris’ popularity, but it surely must rankle. His speech tomorrow is unlikely to elicit the same tub-thumping that accompanied the mayor’s speech.
What about Boris for PM?
Well, if the results of my quick, and entirely unscientific, straw poll are anything to go by, party activists would be thrilled to see him as Tory leader.
A JOKE FROM GEORGE
To give them their due, George Osborne’s speechwriters have also been doing their best to lighten the mood.
The chancellor – who has a famously terse relationship with business secretary Vince Cable – made light of their mutual wariness with a joke about the feuding Milibands.
The chancellor said: “People said we wouldn’t get on, that we’d trade cruel nicknames, that we would knife each other in the back, that we’d try to end each others’ careers. Who do they think we are? Brothers?”