4 Oct 2011

A conference of two Conservative parties?

It is one of the most confusing party conferences I have attended. If coalition politics served to professionalise the Lib Dem conference (see earlier Snowblog), they have served to discombobulate this Conservative one.

Ministers and members seem to be singing from intriguingly different hymn sheets. At the core of the difficulty lies, as for so very long, Europe.

The party is unquestionably relieved to be in power. Many here in Manchester at the party conference even talk about it as a “Conservative government”. The word coalition doesn’t often even rate a mention.

But in the margins here you talk with party members who say things that quite simply would never be said from the podium by any minister. There some who want to see corporal punishment back, or who deny climate change, and many for whom getting out of Europe is a central ambition.

A poll published noisily here yesterday found 68 per cent of the party wanting to leave the EU altogether and a whopping 75 per cent who want a referendum on the subject.

Needless to say, the issue is not on the main conference agenda. It is as if there are two conferences going on here. One for those who actually believe the Tories lost the last election and one – generally involving those enjoying ministerial power – who believe they won it.

I chatted informally last night with a number of senior ministers who described having the “time of our lives”.

Today sees law and order on the agenda, and there will be some Tory red meat thrown to the ordinary membership. But when all this is done, Tories of all stripes will return home, allowing the coalition to get on with the job of government.

From what I have learned of this conference season, that coalition government will make it through to the next election in 2015.

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