What happened? The end of ‘big government’ was announced in David Cameron’s speech. General Richard Dannatt is to give advice on Afghanistan, Osbourne will cut the Whitehall budget by one third, freeze public sector pay, and raise the pension age. Welfare shake-ups aim to get 500,000 people off incapacity benefit.
What went wrong? Despite a ban on Tory leaders drinking champagne, Cameron was spotted with a glass at a Spectator party. Chris Grayling, Shadow Defence, was unaware of Dannatt’s appointment, calling it a “political gimmick”. Cameron had to step in early on to prevent a rift opening over the issue of the Lisbon Treaty and Europe. A party member was arrested over champagne theft from the conference venue.
What are we still asking? What will the party do on Europe if the Lisbon Treaty is ratified before they come into power? The possible options for a referendum will no doubt evoke strong feelings from all corners of the party, and Cameron could have his work cut out just to maintain discipline. The financial cuts that were announced are only a fraction of the deficit. How will they find the money for the rest?he Conservatives
THE LABOUR PARTY
What happened? Unsurprisingly, it started with Prime Minister Brown promising to take the toughest action of any country on bankers bonuses and the expansion of job creation programmes. Afghanistan was mostly glossed over but more equipement was promised. Free childcare, better cancer treatment and a referendum on electoral reform were also mentioned.
What went wrong? The loss of The Sun’s support was disappointing although the subsequent headlines were probably more soul destroying. Lord Mandelson used the ‘c-word’ to refer to a News International executive although he claims he said ‘chumps’. The PM was questioned over his use of prescription painkillers.
What are we still asking? Many expected to hear more plans for the increasingly turbulent war in Afghanistan. Ed Balls had little to say about the future of British education although preventing teachers from joining the BNP is a start. Labour’s plan to freeze civil servants’ pay and abandon capital-intense projects to raise funds seemed a little simplistic. Overall, the optimistically named ‘Operation Fightback’ conference did little to convince voters that they deserved another term in power.
THE LIBERAL DEMOCRATS
What happened? In an extremely well delivered speech, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg and sidekick Vince Cable announced plans to levy a tax on those with houses worth more than £1m. They also plan to make a U-turn on tuition fees, meaning not one of the three parties now pledges to abolish them). They also pledged to seriously cut back the UK’s nuclear deterrent, Trident. Despite these money saving measures, the Lib Dems also pledged to spend, offering to abolish income tax for those earning less than £10,000.
What went wrong? Students are the Lib Dem’s largest support base, and ditching their policy to scrap tuition fees will cost the party many student votes. There was also mutiny from many Lib Dems, some of whom accuse party leaders of making up policy ‘as they go along’.
What are we still asking? Becoming less credible by the day, many are asking whether Clegg really has what it takes to lead a party into the next election. Lib Dem support is falling, and the party is failing to attract lost Labour voters, many of whom are turning to the Tories. It is also unclear how the Liberal Democrats will meet their promises both to increase spending and to make a significant dent in the deficit.