As in previous years, David Cameron addressed tonight’s 1922 Committee/ConservativeHome party at the Tory conference in Birmingham. He began with a rhetorical blast against Ukip defector Mark Reckless, another sign of how determined the Conservatives are to win the forthcoming by-election in Rochester and Strood. Unlike in the case of Douglas Carswell, a well-liked and well-respected figure, there is cold fury across the party at his behaviour.
Cameron said: “Now, I remember what it was like to follow a member of parliament who had defected from the Conservative Party. I think we’ve all forgotten Shaun Woodward. Let me just say this: I know how Conservatives in Rochester and Strood will be feeling tonight. They will be saying, ‘I worked my socks off, I banged on those doors, I stuffed those envelopes, I worked my heart out to get that man elected and yet this is how I’m repaid. So I don’t care whether you’re from the north, the south, the east, or the west, from London, from Birmingham, from Manchester. I say at this conference, we make this vow, we go to Rochester and we win that seat back for the Tories.”
But the most striking passage came when he turned to Labour. He declared:
We saw last week what we are up against, and I have to say, after that Labour leader’s speech, after that Labour conference, if we, the Conservative Party, cannot defeat that complete shower of an opposition, we don’t deserve to be in politics.
The line was reminiscent of Tony Blair’s final conference speech as Labour leader, in which he said of the Tories: “If we can’t take this lot apart in the next few years we shouldn’t be in the business of politics at all.” (Labour, of course, failed in that mission.) It also recalled Ed Miliband’s 2012 conference address, in which he asked: “Have you ever seen a more incompetent, hopeless, out-of-touch, U-turning, pledge-breaking, make-it-up-as-you-go-along, back-of-the-envelope, miserable shower than this Prime Minister and this government?”
Cameron added, in reference to the absent passage on the deficit in Miliband’s speech, “We all forget things, my children sometimes forget their homework, I sometimes forget where I’ve left the car keys, but to speak for an hour and twenty minutes and not remember the biggest problem facing this country, the deficit, shows you are completely unfit for office.”
By making his contempt for Labour and for Miliband clearer than ever, Cameron has raised the stakes at the next election. If, as the polls, the bookmakers and a significant number of his own MPs suggest, he is destined for defeat, it will be a truly humiliating end to his political career.