A conference to remember

By Stephen Hoffman

When I got to Manchester I became immensely proud of being a member of the Conservative party.  When the coach arrived and  I was greeted by  a rag tag of environmentalists, far left trade union activists, socialists and people just taking the opportunity  to shout at Tories, I knew I was in the right party and that all must be done to stop people like that getting in charge of the country.

The real political high brow events started off with Parliament Street, an emerging centre-right think tank who held a great reception where the wine was flowing and Eric Pickles gave a delightfully funny speech reminding us all of the need to stopping Labour  turning it into a disaster zone.

The next day was spent recovering from the excesses of the previous night and having the chance to walk around the impressive Manchester conference centre experiencing the delights that the many organisations’ stalls had to offer. One of my favourites was the Social Action stall. It was a reminder to those who paint Conservatives as selfish, that they are wrong.

Many Conservatives do fantastic charitable work and fantastic work in the community. It’s just that we realise that there is nothing charitable about creating an overbearing state, taking people’s liberty away, hooking people into a culture of dependency, whilst letting the state crowd out the private sector.  It’s far more caring to give people a hand up, not a hand out.

One of the best events I saw at Conference was Parliament Street’s event on the effect the Coalition government has had on the Conservatives and what a Conservative led government would look like. On the panel were the writer of David Cameron’s biography Kieran O’Hara, the impressive former PPC for Hammersmith and Fulham and adviser to the Prime Minister, Shaun Bailey, John Redwood, a man who has an expertise on a number of subjects and the outspoken Melanie Phillips.

The overriding impression was that debate within the Conservative party is loud and vibrant but more needs to be done to bring it to the surface. After all I see nothing wrong in healthy discussion. We are after all meant to believe in free speech.

By the time I got to Tuesday my energy levels were sapping. I was crushed under the weight of events I’d been to, the people I’d seen and the lack of sleep. If anyone had the misfortune to see me in the morning I looked like a walking talking zombie.

Somehow though I dragged myself out of bed and it was the best day I had at Conference. I was greeted by a typically humorous Boris Johnson speech. I would be lying if I said it was the best speech I had heard him give, it wasn’t (even some of the jokes fell flat) but even an off-form Boris will have you in hysterical fits of laughter.

Then it was on to Michael Gove’s keynote speech. I am an unashamed Govite. I think the free schools revolution he has helped unleash is driving up standards and choice for parents in the face of recalcitrant trade union leaders and a Labour party which cares far more about politicking than supporting policies that are transforming the lives of children across the country.  We were reminded of this message by four eloquent speakers brought onto the stage by Gove.

We reached Wednesday and somehow I was still standing.  I was waiting in anticipation for Cameron’s speech, would it be a damp squib, or a tub-thumping performance on the need for a Conservative-led government to be allowed to unleash Britain’s entrepreneurial spirit and to support hard-working people up and down the country.

Happily, despite what some commentators have said, it was a great speech. Firstly he reminded us of the terrible mess Labour left us in. Then he spoke about how with higher employment, more private businesses and economic growth, we are on the road to recovery, but this cannot be derailed.

Again he was right, if there was to be a minor criticism, I would say he needs to be even more radical to cut spending further so that we can see the formation of a smaller, leaner state and to call for radical tax cuts. Then Britain can become the land of opportunity for businesses, which it was clear in his speech that Cameron wants.

It was a good Conservative party conference. The message is for Conservatives like me who believe in creating a Britain that is the land of opportunity for all individuals, we need to keep on calling for a smaller state, a free market and lower taxes.