Support 110 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
28 February 2010

How did Cameron’s speech go down?

The return of the noteless Cameron won a warm but hardly electric reception.

By Jon Bernstein

According to Tim Bale’s exhaustive history of the post-Thatcher Conservative Party, just 300 faithful journeyed to the 2003 spring conference. Although Iain Duncan Smith had been the choice of the grass roots to replace William Hague, two years on, his leadership was unravelling, progress in the polls was negligible and there was little appetite for early-spring tub-thumping.

It feels like a different party now, if not in its underlying wish to lurch rightwards, then certainly in an overriding thirst for victory (temporarily?) trumping factional differences.

Consequently, the numbers in Brighton this weekend have been strong and a long queue snaked around the Metropole’s Durham Hall more than an hour before David Cameron, the fifth man to follow Thatcher, was due to speak.

Today saw the return of the noteless Cameron for the first time since the 2007 autumn conference. But in tone it felt more like the beauty contest speech he gave at conference two years earlier, when he was seeking the leadership of his party.

Select and enter your email address Your new guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture each weekend - from the New Statesman. A quick and essential guide to domestic politics from the New Statesman's Westminster team. A weekly newsletter helping you understand the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email. Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

Now seeking leadership of the country, he promised frankness and openness, derided soundbites and sloganeering. And then delivered a series of soundbites and slogans. He talked of “compassionate conservatism”, of “change”; he said “I love the NHS”. He even rolled out “Vote blue, go green” (though no one applauded that one).

Content from our partners
How placemaking can drive productivity in cities – with PwC
The UK needs SMEs to reach net zero
To truly tackle regional disparities, we need a new type of devolution

He didn’t say that “we can’t go on like this”, proving that the internet backlash his airbrushed pledge received has contaminated that particular line. But what he did say, at least a dozen times, was that the country didn’t want “another five years of Gordon Brown”.

It’s a line we’ll hear again and again and is designed as a counter to the tightening opinion polls. The Tory high command hope all this talk of a Labour comeback will focus minds and that change will win out.

The mood in the hall was warm but not electric, and the ovation at the end was barely 90 seconds long.

Follow the New Statesman team on Twitter.