After the three week conference season people might be forgiven for suffering from conference fatigue. Many will be trying to battle the effects of a Labour party conference which at times appeared to be a cross between the Japanese survival game show Endurance, and during all the standing ovations, a Jane Fonda work-out video. Manchester was a brutal and sometimes chaotic week, but the prospects for the forthcoming Conservative conference are altogether different. My party has not gathered in for our main conference in Birmingham for 75 years, and it is with a great deal of vim and vigour that we head towards the second city.
En route to Birmingham, delegates will travel through constituency after constituency of target seats for the next General Election. If we are to win, the voters in the Midlands will be one of the key audiences that we will have to convince we can be trusted in government.
This will be my 38th conference, and I have come to realise that each one has its own mood and personality. I have a sneaking suspicion that this year will be one of focus and determination. It is true that the party’s prospects and the opinion polls look extremely encouraging but talking to councillors and activists as I tour the country, none seem prepared to take their eye off the job in hand, regardless of what the opinion polls might suggest. “Let’s take nothing for granted” is the message I hear time after time.
There is no doubt that the challenge we face this week is to prove to the British public that we have the ideas and the solutions to address the problems facing our country. We must explain our programme for change to rebuild our battered economy, renew our public services, and repair our ‘broken’ society. It is not enough for us to wait for Labour to lose the General Election, we must show that we are capable of governing the country.
As David Cameron has already said, we are yet to seal the deal with the electorate. They want to know that we have a leader who can cope with the challenges we face as a country and that we as a party have the energy and the solutions to begin to address them as a matter of urgency. The success of this week will be judged by how we as a party demonstrate our readiness and ability to make the right decisions.
I am convinced that unlike Labour’s week of infighting, disunity and uncertainty, our conference will show a Shadow Cabinet that is working as a team and fizzing with ideas, a party upbeat and focused, and a trim and efficient organisation in better condition to fight an election that in any time in a generation. One conference does not win an election, but this conference in Birmingham could go a long way to convincing the public that we are ready and worthy of their trust.