Gordon's tonic for Tories

Thursday, 4 October, 2007

GORDON Brown didn't plan it, but he has done the Conservative Party an enormous favour.

All the talk of an early election concentrated Tory minds, allowed them to paper over the differences of the past few months, and to present a united front to directly challenge the Prime Minister to call a poll.

Many commentators - and I include myself in this group - believed Blackpool would witness another round of Tory bloodletting.

The signs were there. Traditionalists resented the shift in policy on grammar schools, they wouldn't sign up to David Cameron's green agenda, couldn't understand the touchy feely approach on street thugs, and didn't like being lectured by Cameron on his 'modernise or die' crusade.

However, even the most wild eyed right winger has decided to soak up everything that runs contrary to their particular brand of politics for the sake of unity.

If an election isn't called next week, the Tebbit faction could well come out into the open in a last ditch attempt to divert the Conservative leader from fully embracing the centre ground in politics.

The fluctuating opinion polls caught the Tories off guard. They totally miscalculated what the public would think of Brown.

From being ahead in the polls and capturing 900 council seats nationwide last May, the Conservatives appeared over the summer months to be fracturing in an internal battle on what the Tories stand for.

The resignation of a frontbench spokesman over the grammar schools policy, confusion over whether a Tory government would reintroduce admission charges for museums and art galleries, the decision of Cameron to fly to Rwanda when half of his constituents were up to their stomachs in flood water, and the defection of a Tory MP to Labour made it a bruising summer for the Conservatives.

This week they have fought back. Unity has been a dirty word over the past 17 years, but the Tories have overcome these difficulties to show a softer style of Conservatives which they hope and believe will appeal to tens of thousands of voters.

This weekend's opinion polls and the outcome of the crop of local authority by-elections being held throughout the country today will be scrutinised for signs that they will encourage the Prime Minister to hold an election.

If Labour's lead increases, the Tories are resigned to having to fight an election against a man who totally dominates politics in the UK.

However, if the trends show a bounce in the polls for Cameron and the Tories, there won't be a November election, and it could well not happen until 2010, giving the Conservatives time to implode again.

The perceived reality is that if Mr Brown fails to call an election on Monday or Tuesday of next week, then it won't happen.

The Prime Minister may well say that he has never intended to go to the country and that it was just media speculation. That won't wash because he did nothing to douse election talk at his own conference.

Bury St Edmunds Conservative MP David Ruffley says he is encouraged by this week's conference. 'The spirit of the delegates was positive because they now have clear, straightforward, and populist polices messages to present voters on the doorstep.

'What we have set out this week will resonate with voters - firm on immigration, more border controls, more prisons and the end of the early release scheme, and a policy on death duties and stamp duty which will benefit millions of people.'

The Tories did not expect an election until 2009 at the earliest. Endless speculation talk has forced them to detail polices earlier than they would have wanted.

But this has helped the Tories. Thanks to Gordon Brown, the voters will now know what the Tory message is.

The danger for Mr Cameron is that they may not like that message and decide to send Mr Brown back to Downing Street with another landslide victory.

The Tory hope is that this week, they have done enough to delay an election for possibly more than two years. But the message to the Prime Minister is clear: if there is an election, the Tories are ready and able to fight with all their troops united.