JOHN HUMPRHYS: Sunny Blackpool weather but
a few storms over the leader's heads. Constituencies were unhappy about
the Government's stand on Iraq. And inside the conference hall the Trade
Unions caused a defeat over the involvement of private firms in the public
services. But Tony Blair refused concessions.
TOMY BLAIR: I believe that we are at our
best when at our boldest.
HUMPHRYS: Then an American President
boldly went where none had gone before.
BILL CLINTON: Conference,Clinton Bill,
HUMPHRYS: Clinton had swept into town
with the 'Unusual Suspect' Kevin Spacy. He had a political message of
support for Tony Blair. But most delegates seemed more impressed by the
personal than the political.
On the other side of the
Atlantic, President Bush won congressional support for action against Iraq,
but at the UN there is still strong opposition with Russia and France rejecting
a tough new resolution.
Top marks for presentation
but black marks for attainment. The A'Levels fiasco continues to haunt
the Education Secretary Estelle Morris, as more than ninety thousand candidates
have their grades reviewed.
And John Major was
well known for liking a curry in the evenings. But no-one suspected quite
how much. Least of all the Tories who are suffering the political indigestion.
First the poor old
Tories. How many times have we said that in the past few years? It doesn't
seem to matter what they do, or who they have as their leader, the country
remains resolutely unimpressed. The opinion polls show them permanently
stuck in the doldrums and even now that some support for the government
seems to be slipping away it's not going to THEM but to the Liberal Democrats.
What can they do? Well, they could decide what they stand for for a start.
That's what the leadership's critics say. If they're really serious about
"modernising" and presenting a different face to the world why don't they
get on and do it? I'll be putting that to Oliver Letwin after this report
from Terry Dignan.
TERRY DIGNAN The Conservatives of Cambridge
await the arrival of their guest of honour - Oliver Letwin. He brings with
him from Westminster a message of hope. The Tories can win again but only
if they change. Otherwise they'll be all dressed up with nowhere to go.
These are the most loyal of the Conservative Party's followers, they
keep coming to events like this in good times and bad and in recent years
it's mainly been bad. A year ago they hoped better times were round the
corner when they made Iain Duncan Smith their new Party leader. But so
far he's not been able to widen his appeal beyond this hard core of Conservative
ARCHIE NORMAN MP We can't underestimate the seriousness,
the gravity of the situation facing the party, I know that Iain Duncan
Smith doesn't. We come third amongst young people after - under the age
of twenty five - we come third amongst all women under the age of thirty
five I believe.
DIGNAN A year on from Iain Duncan
Smith replacing William Hague, these Conservative activists would be forgiven
for thinking things should be looking a lot brighter. But enticing the
voters back to the party has proved to be more difficult than even they
imagined. Indeed, if the polls are to be believed, under Iain Duncan Smith
they've made little or no progress.
PROFESSOR PAUL WHITELEY At this stage of the electoral
cycle he is not doing much better than William Hague did at his stage of
the cycle after 1997. He's got a long long way to go before he registers
with the electorate and has a significant impact.
DIGNAN Twelve months ago On The
Record asked some former Conservative voters in Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire
why they'd rejected the Party. We're back to see if they've returned to
the fold. They haven't.
UNNAMED WOMAN: Around about a year ago Iain Duncan
Smith was made leader of the Conservative Party. How have things changed
in that time?
UNNAMED WOMAN You have to struggle to think of
the name of the leader and what he looks like and he's leading the Party
UNNAMED MAN: When he came in, I thought
him being a military man he'd have some life in him - there's no get up
and go in the man to actually fight for whatever he believes in.
UNNAMED WOMAN Well they swapped one bland leader
for another bland leader and we're not quite sure where they're going.
So, they need to be a more vocal.
UNNAMED WOMAN: It's more fiery under the previous
leader who for the moment name escapes me. I can't even remember it...William
Hague that's right.
DIGNAN This is the hotel where
Iain Duncan Smith and his Shadow Cabinet met a week or so ago to try to
map out a new route back to power after so many years in the doldrums.
The problem Iain Duncan Smith faces at meetings like this is that he gets
conflicting advice. On one side of the argument are the so called modernisers
- their motto is out with the old and in with the new. They are impatient
for the Conservative Party to change and change quickly. On the other side
of the divide are those who are wary of change. They are especially worried
that between now and the next election they might upset too many voters
who still hold traditional Conservative values. And which side does the
party leader come down on? Well the modernisers feel that too often at
meetings like this his instincts lie with the cautious brigade.
This week the spotlight
will be on Iain Duncan Smith in Bournemouth at the Conservative Conference.
With one poll showing the party now competing with the Liberal Democrats
for second place after Labour, Duncan Smith is being urged by modernisers
to throw caution to the wind on the big issues of the day. If he doesn't
take on the traditionalists, they argue, the Tories will sink further.
NORMAN On one side you've got the
reformers like me wanting to go faster, on the other side you have people
who are sceptical, but the time has come now at this Conference where on
some of these big issues he needs to define where he stands because otherwise
there won't be a sense that it's coherent, that it's indelible, that it's
WHITELEY This is exactly what Tony
Blair did in the fight with the left on Clause Four of the party constitution
back in the 1990s and it helped to establish his position as a strong leader
in the minds of the wider public so it might not be a bad thing for Iain
Duncan Smith to pick some fights selectively in order to attract attention.
DIGNAN But using the Conference
to bash Tory traditionalists, to show the party has changed, would leave
many activists feeling disenchanted.
JILL KIRBY It seems to me to be
false to suggest that you have to sort of kick all these people in the
teeth in order to prove that you're something different. I think if you
make the argument coherently and on the basis of the Conservative solutions
to different problems then you bring everybody with you, you can bring
your traditional supporters if you like and you can also reach a wider
DIGNAN The Party's modernising
wing believe this week's Conference here in Bournemouth will provide a
big test as to whether or not the Conservatives really are changing. There
won't just be a state of the art set on show, to prove the party is now
listening to the outside world there'll be speeches from organisations
you don't normally associate with a Tory gathering, groups representing
lone parents, victims of domestic violence, even trade unionists will have
their say. But it will take more than a new style conference to show that
underlying attitudes within the Conservative Party have fundamentally altered.
NORMAN We have a long long way
to come back and that is exactly why this Conference should be a real landmark,
a real punctuation point, a point at which we are able to say and the public
are able to say afterwards, this is a different kind of Conservative Party,
it has changed beyond recognition from the one that lost the last Election.
DIGNAN The Tories lost despite
their traditional promise to cut taxes. These Hemel Hempstead voters regarded
extra money for health and education as more important.
UNNAMED WOMAN: But at the moment if you look at
the two choices - investing or cutting tax.
UNNAMED MAN: Invest.
UNNAMED WOMAN: Investing.
UNNAMED WOMAN: When they were in power before they
sold the public the low taxation card and I think it proved that it didn't
work because when the Tories went out of power the NHS was in a hell of
a mess so was education, schools were suffering from lack of resources
and I don't think it can be sold any longer.
WHITELEY The Conservatives have
a problem to think out how they're going to deal with this tax spending
issue when they are seen by the average voter as extremist on it.
NORMAN On issues like taxation
and public services we have to establish once and for all whether we believe
that investment in public services, properly delivered through reform public
service, which might mean increasing taxation, is something we're prepared
DIGNAN Once the Conservatives scaled
the heights of British politics. And they will again if they stay true
to their traditional tax-cutting philosophy, according to those who reject
the modernisers' thesis.
JOHN REDWOOD I think the Conservatives
must go into the next election offering lower taxes and I think it is very
easy to do so because we have a government which is characterised by tax
and waste on a massive scale.
DIGNAN: But the modernisers have
another target in their sights - privatisation - a policy still dear to
the hearts of those who promoted it in the 1980s.
REDWOOD: Privatisation of commercial
enterprises was pretty unpopular in the 1980s but we did it and we proved
that it worked. Who would now go back to a nationalised phone monopoly
when you had to wait six months to get a line installed. I think we need
to pick it up and turn it into a really good agenda that will modernise
health and education and transport in exactly the way that we Conservatives
modernised telephones in the 1980s.
NORMAN: The general public still
think we're primarily motivated by privatisation, by profit, by the objective
of reducing taxation for generally better off people, and we have to destroy
that image once and for all.
DIGNAN: Asking these party activists
to abandon traditional Tory policies on taxation and public services is
one thing. Getting them to embrace changes in attitudes to homosexuality
quite another. The so-called Section 28 law bans local authorities promoting
homosexuality. Labour wants to scrap it. So do Tory modernisers to show
the party is now more respectful of minorities.
NORMAN The fact is Section 28 has
never behaved.... changed anybody's behaviour anywhere and it's something
that Westminster politicians get worked up in a lather about, we should
put it on one side, it stigmatises a group of people who feel strongly
about it, you know socially liberal Britain in an open tolerant Conservative
Party, which say this is a relic which has no affect on people's lives
and it should be abandoned.
KIRBY: I think it would be sad
if the Conservative Party got dragged into you know we can only show we
care if we wear this, you know pro gay thing on our sleeve. If I were
invited to say to my MP you know this is what you should do, then I would
have to say I personally would rather stick with Section 28 than have nothing
to replace it.
DIGNAN Respect for traditional
values is part of the Tory Party's DNA. So are modernisers right to want
change because many voters no longer share these values.
REDWOOD I don't think you attract
people by going out to them and saying, we've noticed that you belong to
a little group and we now love your group very much, they will say, well
so what? Every politician says that.
DIGNAN What unites the party is
a feeling that the Conservatives aren't doing well. And the views of these
former Tories of Hemel Hempstead may explain why.
UNNAMED MAN And you don't take any notice
of the leader because you think he is that bland they are going to get
UNNAMED WOMAN I think they have had a great opportunity
with changing the leaders and at that timing they could have grasped and
taken that by the horns and just come out with a whole new policy and revamped
the whole party but I am afraid they fluffed it.
NORMAN We're ambitious for Iain
Duncan Smith and you know my advice to him is that slow change is no change,
people just won't notice it and the time has come now to pin your colours
to the mast, and particularly because nobody pays much attention to oppositions
nowadays, we've got to shout loud from the rooftops about it. This Conference
should be the point at which the pace quickens and the Party is faced by
Iain Duncan Smith with the unavoidable choice of change or die.
DIGNAN The painstaking ascent to
power has barely begun. Indeed Iain Duncan Smith says he's only at base
camp. But many Conservatives fear he'll go the way of his predecessor and
take his party down with him.