The threatened rain in Manchester held off on Tuesday as delegates gathered in the main hall to hear London Mayor Boris Johnson give his conference speech. Despite having what might be regarded as a ‘tough’ slot at 10am on Tuesday morning, Boris’ popularity among Party members meant that the hall was very busy. It was no surprise to hear the Mayor defend his record and set out policies for the election next year, which looks set to be the most important electoral challenge to the Party in 2012.
Elsewhere Nick Boles MP, Stephan Shakespeare of pollsters YouGov and Conservative Home Editor Tim Montgomerie sat on a panel chaired by journalist Janet Daley which looked at the direction the party needed to take in order to win the next general election, which is scheduled for 2015. Interestingly, Shakespeare cautioned that despite their poll ratings having halved since May 2010, the Liberal Democrats would likely not be decimated in 2015, owing to their strong activist base in their key seats. Another point, made by both Montgomerie and Boles – two Conservatives seen as being on different wings of the Party – was that the classic divide between right and left within the Party was smaller than they could remember, suggesting that there may be a greater deal of ideological unity in the Party than the media sometimes suggests.
Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude sat on a panel discussing the Government’s transparency agenda in the afternoon, alongside industry figures and journalists. Maude was at pains to stress the effort the Government is putting into continuing to make information more readily available to the public, and made it clear that he was determined that the shift would not be slowed down by what he saw as the natural tendency of Government to keep its data to itself.
In the evening Conservative Home and Save the Children hosted a reception attended by International Development Minister Andrew Mitchell and Chancellor George Osborne – the only fringe event the Chancellor attended thanks to an EU finance meeting in Luxembourg. Save the Children went to great lengths to praise the Government for its decision to increase the aid budget despite the difficult financial crisis.