Just over a month ago – September 28 – I wrote about the political scene here in the UK. I painted a rather gloomy picture from the Conservative viewpoint and I predicted prime minister, Gordon Brown, would call a general election for November 1.
How wrong could I have possibly been. In my defence, everyone got it wrong. A week is a long time in politics, and the past four weeks have seemed like a lifetime. It has been the most politically tumultuous period for a generation.
It all started during the Conservative Party Conference at the end of September/beginning of October, but the seeds had already been sown during Labour’s conference. The Labour conference was meant to be a precursor to an election and an election the Labour Party would win. Government ministers were not given a lot of time to give their speeches and everything was geared to give Brown the starring role. His speech was dull and lifeless, but that is typical of his speeches. Nevertheless, the conference went okay.
Us Conservatives on the other hand were at our conference – so the media thought – to cheer ourselves up. We were – after all – facing an electoral defeat. We were in Blackpool to smile and to muster some of the wartime spirit, but we had different ideas. George Osborne – our Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer – unveiled his tax plans. The cornerstone of his policies was to raise the level estates have to pay inheritance tax up to £1 million. It was a hit. Liam Fox – our defence spokesman – attacked Gordon Brown for going to Iraq and using out troops as a political football. This was also a hit. One-by-one, our senior front-bench spokesmen and women gave great speeches. The Conservative Party for the first time in fifteen years was beginning to look and sound like a party of government. At the end of the Conference, David Cameron gave his leader’s speech. He spoke for over an hour without any notes. It was the crowning moment of a great conference.
After the conference the usual opinion polls were carried out and it appeared that Osborne’s tax policy had really been a hit with the electorate and in crucial marginal constituencies, the Conservative Party was around five points in the lead. Gordon Brown was now in a dilemma and he bottled it. He of course in true fashion lied about his reasons for not calling an election. He tried to convince us all that he never had any intention of calling one and even tried to blame the media for whipping up the story. Adam Boulton – the political editor of Sky News – was livid, especially as Brown decided to give a one-to-one interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr. Marr is Brown’s pet interviewer. He always gives the prime minister an easy ride. What Brown has done is emerge as a weak leader and has the press firmly against him. Boulton himself had asked Brown directly, ‘If you are not going to call an election, stop all the rumours now and say so.’
The following week during Prime Minister’s Question Time in the House of Commons, David Cameron gave a performance we have not witnessed in many years. He was confident and looked every inch the leader. Brown, on the other hand, looked weak, agitated and started to lose his temper.
What the Conservatives need to do now is more of the same and that is exactly what we are doing. There has been a casualty of the ‘non-election.’ – the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Sir Menzies Campbell. He was leader for just over 18 months and in his mid 60s – he was deemed too old and far from charismatic. He is an amiable man and someone of great honour. Too nice to be a leader of a political party. The leadership contest has already started and they will have a new leader in December.
So far from being a doom and gloom merchant, I feel very up-beat. For the first time in fifteen years the Conservative Party is seen as a party of government and this is a great cause for celebration.