Over the past few days, various pretenders to the Tory party leadership have competed for the attention of conference. Yesterday, Home Secretary Theresa May outlined her tough stance on immigration, stating that a society cannot remain “cohesive” if it welcomes too many foreigners. “Iron Chancellor” George Osborne and populist peacock Boris Johnson each attempted to court members through on-stage rituals that were often absurd; Boris choosing to weave an extended rugby analogy into his address.
Source: The Telegraph
However, today, the focus was on the current Conservative Party leader David Cameron, whose hour-long address ensured that this year’s conference will not be overshadowed by Machiavellian political manoeuvres.
We watched the speech, so you don’t have to, and have analysed some of the Prime Minister’s key quotes:
“I am so proud to be standing here in front of you today – back in government, and not just any government – a majority Conservative government”
This quote – the opening sentence of David Cameron’s conference speech – may strike many readers as self-congratulatory claptrap. In essence, it is. Yet, this trivial line was immensely important to the Prime Minister, and his party. Indeed, following the 2010 General Election, many within the Tory party, including Cameron’s allies, believed that their leader would never achieve an outright majority. It was whispered that Dave would be remembered as the Conservative Prime Minister constantly haunted by the word ‘coalition’.
Being able to stand in front of conference as the victorious leader of an untarnished Tory administration was therefore a personal triumph for the PM that even he did not prophesise.
Moreover, this statement, and the political reality which underpins it, also alters the dimension of the contest to succeed Cameron. Prior to 7th May, a belief in the electoral impotency of David Cameron was accompanied by a corresponding belief that the Tories required an enigmatic, attention-grabbing leader to refresh the Conservative brand (i.e. Boris Johnson). Now that Cameron has refuted this logic, many within the party view safety and maturity as key requirements of a new leader (especially given Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour Party leader) – meaning that Chancellor George Osborne appears to be the early frontrunner.
“The vast majority of people aren’t obsessives, arguing at the extremes of the debate. Let me put it as simply as I can: Britain and Twitter are not the same thing”
This is a strategy that we can perhaps expect the Prime Minister to adopt more frequently in the coming months. Jeremy Corbyn’s political sustenance is largely extracted from the enthusiasm of the under-25s, who are compulsive consumers of social media. David Cameron and the Tories understand political arithmetic, and subsequently realise that Labour cannot win an election if they fail to convince older age groups, who are more sceptical social media users, of their credibility. Ridiculing Twitter thus allowed Cameron to portray the Conservatives as the party for ‘grown-ups’, rather than the party of technology-obsessed teenagers.
“Thousands of words have been written about the new Labour leader. But you only really need to know one thing: he thinks the death of Osama bin Laden was a “tragedy”… My friends – we cannot let that man inflict his security-threatening, terrorist-sympathising, Britain-hating ideology on the country we love”
Despite a forceful fightback from Jeremy Corbyn at last week’s Labour party conference, Cameron did not dilute his hard-hitting approach towards the new Labour leader, suggesting that the bearded Bolshevik is a threat to Britain’s security. The Prime Minister, standing in a hall festooned with Union Jacks, scoffed at Corbyn’s newfound patriotism by asserting that the latter perceived Osama bin Laden's death to be a "tragedy".
This rhetorical battle will fundamentally shape how Jeremy Corbyn is perceived by the public for the duration of his tenure. It will thus be crucial for Corbyn to develop a clear, consistent counter-narrative to these Tory attacks in order to win-over potential doubters.
“When we joined the European Union we were told that it was about going into a common market, rather than the goal that some had for “ever closer union”. Let me put this very clearly: Britain is not interested in “ever closer union” – and I will put that right”
With a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union expected this time next year, many within the Conservative Party have used conference season as an opportunity to cultivate and test their positions.
David Cameron, who advocates remaining in the EU if he is able to secure a favourable renegotiation settlement, presented a clear message to the sceptics in his party: I will reform Britain’s place in the European Union and, if you wish to uphold your principles, you will stand alongside me.
“We can talk all we want about opportunity, but it’s meaningless unless people are really judged equally. Think about it like this. Opportunity doesn’t mean much to a British Muslim if he walks down the street and is abused for his faith. Opportunity doesn’t mean much to a black person constantly stopped and searched by the police because of the colour of their skin. Opportunity doesn’t mean much to a gay person rejected for a job because of the person they love… The point is this: you can’t have true opportunity without real equality”
Many will read the above quote and question exactly when the Prime Minister decided to channel his inner Ed Miliband. Indeed, David Cameron, preaching the virtues of ‘real equality’, stole the clothes of the Left and flaunted them to his Conservative colleagues, while deriding the “self-righteousness” of the Labour Party.
These egalitarian sentiments are symptomatic of Cameron’s attempt to realign his party (or at least the rhetoric of his party) towards the centre ground; occupying the political space vacated by Labour. Yet, this does not mean that the Prime Minister is now a nascent convert to the socialist cause. Despite left-wing overtones, Cameron believes in a distinctly conservative notion of equality, which argues that equality of opportunity can be ensured without pursuing greater equality of outcome.