It must have seemed like a good idea. Take the kinder Labour politics to the Tories in Manchester. Show how they are a narrow faction that doesn’t represent the country. But the best laid political plans oft go awry, especially if your name is Jeremy Corbyn and you’ve just signed up a horde of militant supporters.
The contrast could not be more stark. While Corbyn’s bother boys have surrounded delegates screaming the kind of obscenities that would make an ASLEF member blush, Cameron has quietly recruited Lord Adonis, late of the SDP and one of the prime architects of New Labour. Sometimes written up as a chancer, it is about time the media pack reassessed this Tory leader. He has not only pulled off an electoral miracle – a majority Conservative Government – when the conventional wisdom said it was impossible, but he also looks set to repeat Tony Blair’s tactic of big tent Government.
Make no mistake, this is not a government that is planning to be in office for five years. It is planning to be in office for a generation. In the eyes of delegates, Corbyn’s baying mob will have only served to cement this picture, further alienating the Labour movement from not only the media but the public. At this rate Cameron stands ready to redefine British politics for a generation.
There may be trouble ahead…
It isn’t, however, all plain sailing. There are storm clouds overhead in Manchester. The European debate could yet rip this party and the Government apart. There are dozens of fringe meetings at this conference on EU issues. The arguments are already being made. What is emerging is that there is a clear divide between those in the financial services sector who fear Brexit and the increasingly vocal anti-EU faction enthralled to their rose-tinted take on US politics. Like SNP supporters dreaming of secret oil wells in the west of Scotland, there is a faction of the Tory right that secretly wishes Britain was the 51st state. They don’t seem to have heard the calls from US politicians on both sides of the US electoral divide for Britain to stay in.
Some in the party think that the EU debate will be a quiet and gentlemanly affair. While it may lack some of the malice of this year’s protestors, this will not be a case of agreeing to disagree. The Conservatives are still recovering from the debate over Maastricht some 20 years ago. Anyone who thinks this divide will pass off peacefully is deluded. On the one hand, Britain’s entire economy and way of life are at stake. On the other, so is the unity of the Conservative Party. Cameron will hope that he doesn’t have to choose.
The date of the referendum may yet be elusive, but London’s mayoral election looms. With the son of the late James Goldsmith as the Conservative candidate, the party will be hoping that Sadiq Khan’s push to make the EU an issue doesn’t end up foreshadowing the national debate. This storm may break sooner than people think.