Friday, October 05, 2007

Learning the Lessons

Get out of jail free
Not too many of these available
Even as someone who is just a Conservative inclined voter rather than a card carrying member of the party, one of the best results from a good conference has been the sound of silence on some fronts.

Where were the defections, give or take a couple of councillors going in both directions? Where was the pointless mumbling into the beard about grammar schools? Where were the battles of EU policy? I'm sure there was a little going on in the fringe, but like 99% of the country I know little of what went on at these events, other than the drinking which has been well covered elsewhere, and the bulk of the media were fed enough substantial fare from the main stage to care.

Hopefully those that caused so much damage in the last couple of months are feeling a little ashamed of themselves, and those that may have been considering taking similar lines themselves will be thinking again.

Great, some of the opinion poll damage has been undone, but what might the numbers have been without some of the mindless point scoring. Was the Brown bounce really down to anything that inspirational that the dour one did? Personally, I very much doubt it - even most of his supporters tended to stick to 'solid' rather than 'scintillating'. Would this have damaged a Conservative party where it was prior to the pre-grammar school row even half so badly? I really can't imagine it would have done, but 'solid' will damage 'squabbling'.

Much of it, looking back in retrospect, seems to have been more a case of how some of the debate was conducted, rather than the fact that there was a debate, and as I hope that some people have learned this lesson, as I want to see the back of this appalling government.

When I reflected on the conference season, I'd forgotten one small moment that I found very positive from Blackpool. I've never understood why Ken Clarke gets such high approval ratings from the public, as nice a gentleman as he seems to be, and to be honest I didn't think his speech was especially significant either in terms of presentation or substance. He did though do one thing; he mentioned the 'E' word. I can't remember exactly what he said on Europe, but in those few words, the way he said it clearly conveyed 'Yes my views are not prevailing, I wish it was different, but this is still a party where on pretty much everything else I find my natural home, and the one I want to succeed'.

Cameron, and his front bench team have played a get out of jail free card, that required a lot of hard work, brilliance, and a little luck from Brown's ineptness in recent weeks to wield. Hopefully the the rapid fall and rise of Conservative fortunes will make it clear that while there will always be principled disagreements within a party, the way in which these are aired, if they are aired, can make the difference between a 'debate' and a 'split'. It is not always the media who make this distinction, sometimes they do just report what they see.

Currently the Conservatives are on the front foot, but it might just take the media to jump on one insignificant party figure, expressing a difference from party policy no larger than exists in any party of intelligent people, and expressing it in the wrong way for the good work to be undone.

The 'public word of advice' line that has been often used in recent months is not a helpful one. I'm sure Cameron welcomes advice, that he listens and considers its merits, but as last week proved he doesn't actually need it.

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