Last week was my first experience of Conference and it was a good one. It was great to meet Tories from around the country, hang out with Hugh Grant – who, incidentally, is shorter than you’d expect but still very attractive – and listen to speeches from, among others, the Mayor of London and the Prime Minister.
With Conference coming so soon after the reshuffle, I was interested to see how the likes of Grant Shapps, Jeremy Hunt and the other new appointees would do in their first major speeches since taking on new roles. Of those I saw, I was most impressed with the new Party Chairman. As a speaker, Grant Shapps is confident and quite engaging – despite bearing an uncanny resemblance to Tony Blair – and so I look forward to seeing what he can bring to the table in the run-up to the General Election and how voters react to him.
My personal highlight of Conference wasn’t the PM, or Boris, but William Hague. He’s a brilliant orator and struck the balance well between content, entertainment and the Disraeli references that were littered throughout so many speeches. Hague seems a universally popular figure within the Party, particularly among ladies of a certain age. I was sat near several enthusiastic Haguettes on Sunday afternoon and I almost felt as though I were at a Tom Jones concert in the 1970s. It was also fantastic to see the Foreign Secretary welcomed as the Honorary President of CF, especially because he was Party leader at the time of its founding.
The fringe event I was most looking forward to was the one run by the Adam Smith Institute on the Monday of Conference. I’m a big fan of their work – even if my university lecturers aren’t – so I was keen to take advantage of an event outside of London. Unfortunately, I got there late so I was one of those listening from the corridor ‘hungry for the narcotic blast of high-grade, free-market rhetorical cocaine’. Frankly, the turnout was testament to their fantastic work and the brilliant speakers, including Daniel Hannan.
Boris mania well and truly took over on Tuesday. There was a real buzz around the ICC and inside Symphony Hall. His speech was, as ever, entertaining, with the brilliant cleaning analogy, SoHo heckles and a vociferous round of applause for Ken Livingstone. Whether or not he’ll be the next leader of the Party, Boris Johnson is an asset to the Conservative Party and we are lucky to have a politician who is so well-liked. I also enjoyed Michael Gove’s speech. I know he’s not universally popular, but he’s one of my favourite members of the Cabinet. Besides, his new glasses are fab. In the evening we hosted an event with Warwick University and the Student Tory Reform Group, which was pretty successful. There was a good turn-out and it was great to catch up with BUCFers past and present.
Wednesday’s programme, culminating in the PM’s speech, was really enjoyable. Those of you who follow me on Twitter (if you don’t, you can do @LauraH7320) will know that I’m something of an Andy Murray fan – I apologise for being unable to get through an online posting without mentioning him – so I was pleased to see him feature in a beautiful Olympic montage that preceded Lord Coe’s speech. Lord Coe received the most enthusiastic ovation of the Conference and I am quite certain that should he decide to run for London Mayor he will be well-supported by both the Party and the electorate. I also enjoyed Mayor Bloomberg’s speech; I think it’s fantastic that the Mayor of one of the world’s most important and dynamic cities is a Conservative ally.
The media really built up Cameron’s speech. There were numerous articles claiming that this was his last chance to rescue his leadership and get the Party back on side etc etc. I think he delivered an excellent speech, using his own personal experiences to discuss attitudes to disability and the culture of aspiration he wants to create. I personally liked the themes of ‘aspiration nation’ and ‘spreading privilege’. After all, don’t we all want something better for ourselves and our children, whether you’re an Etonian or not? I think this was David Cameron at his best, passionate and statesman-like. More of the same please.