The Thick of It


Monday, October 03, 2011

The Tories: slick, confident, in government and unpopular

George Osborne's Conservative Party Conference speech today, like yesterday's press interviews exuded confidence. The Tories are presenting themselves in a slick and confident manner. They know where they are going and they won't flinch or falter. They have more money from a wide range of rich financiers, as shown over the weekend, and they are using it to put on a thoroughly polished show.

What you won't hear this week is the anxiety they clearly feel about the worsening economy. Worse still, the effect that will have on the likelihood of them winning in 2015 will not reach our screens.

Being in power gives the Tories a confidence that was missing from 1992 until about 2008. The money that follows power boosts it further. Many of their front bench are also much better TV performers than many in Labour's front bench.

All of this public schoolboy self assurance though doesn't mean they are confident about either the economy or their own prospects. Neither look good. The economy has flat-lined, the unpopularity of their policies will deepen.

People shouldn't be fooled by Tory bravado. I don't expect them to. They exuded this almost complacent sense of triumph before the election as Labour stuttered and they controlled the news agenda. Yet it didn't let them walk into power with the automatic victory they expected.

The Tory compromises and U-turns over the NHS, quantitative easing and whatever else comes up (there will be more) shows they worry about their popularity. It also shows that their "plan" isn't cast iron. Talk of sticking to "plan-A" is the public, conference line, but the reality shows a weak and vulnerable government.

This only matters if Labour can rebuild its own strength up to a position where it can take advantage of Tory weakness. There were many occasions during New Labour's reign when it was weak but continued to govern, almost unchallenged, because the Tory opposition was completely ineffective.

To find that out, we will have to roll on to the next six months and see whether Miliband can strike repeated blows against his cocky opponent, Cameron. Only if that happens do I think the smile will be wiped off Cameron and Osborne's faces. Otherwise they'll continue to exude that public confidence that belies the worries within.

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