Bournemouth, Boris and Tory bumbling

PinkNews logo surrounded by illustrated images including a rainbow, unicorn, PN sign and pride flag. has spent the last three weeks eagerly following political party conferences. The season finished off this week with the Conservatives swarming on Bournemouth beach and even attempting to talk about policy. Tony Grew reports on the Tory gathering.

Too busy to spend hours watching the Tory party conference? Don’t worry, you didn’t miss much. The conference was quite boring compared to the LibDem and Labour conference fights about leadership.

It started on Sunday, with a speech by David Cameron. He talked about the need for social responsibility, and said the state should give power back to communities. As part of his social responsibility theme, the new Tory leader strongly attacked record companies that profit from violent and homophobic lyrics, branding them “morally wrong and socially unacceptable.”

The conference applauded this statement warmly, and that was perhaps the most striking thing about this conference – the delegates.

They all appeared to be under 40, as if all the WI ladies and retired colonels that actually form the bulk of the Tory party had been told to stay at home this year.

The other change was the range of speakers, with the likes of lesbian novelist Jeanette Winterson taking to the podium to appeal to the Tories to become the party of the land. The Miami Chief of Police and some bird off Dragons Den also addressed delegates.

Human rights campaigner Shami Chakrabarti, who in previous years would probably have been lynched if she showed her face at a Tory conference, was received warmly, and lambasting John Reid for being too right wing went down very well.

The most eye-catching guest speaker was The Ecology magazine editor Zac Goldsmith.

He is also on Cameron’s A-list of candidates, so gays everywhere should rejoice at the prospect of a truly good-looking MP coming our way in the future.

Goldsmith made probably the best speech of the conference, in which he passionately appealed for a new approach towards climate change.

Designer Stephen Bayley spoke about the need for social responsibility in air travel, pointing to the experience of drink-driving, that social stigma is a stronger factor than taxation or legislation in changing behaviour.

The focus of this conference is, er, well not very much. “An overall vision for Britain” William Hague said. Whatever that is.

As the party were short of any policies, there were a series of “Hot Topic Debates” on nebulous issues such as advertising aimed at children. They had snappy titles like “cheap flights are a false economy” and show just how little the party have to really talk about.

They did provide another opportunity for young party activists to make their presence known, but the debates themselves were just like Question Time but without the MPs. Ultimately unenlightening.

The only real policy announcement came from Cameron, when he confirmed that the Tories would vote against ID cards.

The main ‘news’ came from the Tory leadership’s repeated refusal to promise tax cuts.

The ‘highlight’ of day two was a speech by Shadow Chancellor George Osborne, in which he warmed Tory hearts by saying he wants tax cuts, but is not sure when it will be economically viable.

The “row” over tax at this conference has mostly involved old dinosaurs like Norman Tebbit saying the party should promise tax cuts. Everyone else points out that just offering cuts didn’t work in 1997, 2001 and 2005, that its nonsense to offer tax relief three years away from an election. As Osborne put it, a Shadow Chancellor cannot deliver tax cuts, only a Chancellor can.

Win the election first.

There was a keynote speech from David Davis, who lost the leadership election last December, but remained as Shadow Home Secretary. He gave a crowd-pleasing turn, with a good joke about his SAS hard man image: “The papers claim David Cameron wants us to hug a hoodie. Well I support that. The only difference between David and me is that I might just hug a little harder. And a little longer.”

It was not all good news – a screw-up with security left hundreds of delegates stranded outside the conference as the local Plods tried to process their pass applications. Some party activists had to wait two days before being allowed into the conference centre.

The local police blame Conservative Central Office for not submitting the paperwork in good time. Conservative Central Office imply that the police are to blame.

Whatever. Still makes the party look like they can’t organise a party conference in Bournemouth, which is even easier than a piss-up in a brewery.

George Osborne got into a bit of bother over some throwaway remarks he made at a fringe meeting. It seems calling Gordon Brown ‘a bit autistic’ was big news at this conference.

Perhaps if the Shadow Chancellor had anything meaningful to say about the economy, the press would have been less interested in this trivial story.

The press were so bored that they seized on some comments from Boris Johnson.

Apparently the MP for Henley indicated he did not think Jamie Oliver was a saint, and declared himself a member of the pie-eating fraternity.

“I say let people eat what they like. Why shouldn’t they push pies through the railings?,” he told a meeting, and the media, smelling an actual story from this conference, went mad for it. Boris had to hide in the press office.

But it is other comments that Boris made about the West Lothian question that provide more insight into the party’s thinking about Gordon Brown.

In the conference hall the debate was all about fairness and making sure that English people are properly represented, and to stop Scottish MPs voting on matters that only affect England. This is a bit of a winner for the Tories, but Boris laid it all out on the table:

“I have no wish to be disrespectful to the Scots. But it is outrageous that I as an English MP can be outvoted on issues such as Oxfordshire’s NHS without corresponding powers the other way.

“The Scots should not get free university education subsidised by us in England. They shouldn’t get free nursing care.

“As a Scot Gordon Brown will find it hard to convince people in England he should be prime minister.”

Oh dear. The conference closed on Wednesday with an hour-long speech by David Cameron. He attacked the notion that he is all style and no substance, and said something slightly surprising about gay and lesbians. Talking about the importance of marriage, he said: “And by the way, I think it matters, and I think it means something, whether you are a man or a woman, or a woman and a woman, or a man and another man. I am proud that we supported civil partnerships.”

At a fringe meeting arranged by Stonewall earlier in the week, gay Tory activists appeared unaware that Mr Cameron had once voted against allowing gay couples to adopt and repealing Section 28.

The leader also told conference how hard it is to be a single mother, and affirmed his commitment to the NHS. He did not promise to cut taxes.

He brought to a close an upbeat, positive conference. If the Tories are trying to change their image, it is working.