Tom Bage looks at the prime minister speech yesterday in his latest sketch:

David Cameron went to Manchester, to talk to the people. He went there to speak about the spirit of Britain. To discuss his leadership. And your credit card. And his leadership of your credit card. But most of all, he went there to talk about the things he came into politics to change. Hacks had been briefed that this speech would set out a renewal of his political priorities. The deficit? Definitely. The economy? Of course. But this coalition was about so much more than that. It was about big ticket items. Fairness. Freedom. And diabetic drivers, free schools in Norwich, GP consortia, Ed Balls, highlighter pens, Dostoyevsky, Nigeria and cats.

Before we got into the canned meat of his speech the prime minister handed out some dog-eared jokes to delegates. Like Ed Miliband’s last week and Nick Clegg’s the week before that, these gags emerged wheezing and knackered into the stale air of the party conference hall; a perennial breeze of hot, brown guff, blown forever into the grateful faces of the assembled fish-eyed party apparatchiks, hungover journalists and sociopaths. Ken Clarke’s eyelids began to droop in protest and my heart leapt in sympathy. It was like watching paint talk.

Unabashed, Dave continued his canter through his top team. George Osborne? Ambitious. Teresa May? Feline, inexpert. And Boris? Over familiar with the ladies. He went on, but left his audience behind; at the mere mention of the Mayor, hundreds of stout Tory women shuffled excitably on their tremendous bottoms and fanned their seamy brows. The name Boris Johnson evokes a more confident Conservatism and for a moment the minds of delegates drifted back to Brighton, in 1982. There were no green trees, blue skies or gay weddings in those days. Back then, Tory leaders stalked the conference halls of seaside towns, raining scorn on weak Labour leaders, cartoon trade union barons and dreamt armies of single mothers. Young Britons would wave flags and sing songs about Argentineans. Champagne corks would pop as delegates danced patriotically. There were arms dealers and xenophobic jam stalls and nuclear tipped shoulder pads and Willie Whitelaw. And the Liberal Democrats hadn’t been invented.

Back in the hall, the prime minister pressed on. He wanted us to solve the problems of Britain, using our leadership, not his! Yes, there was a problem with growth – but all we needed was a small tot of the Spirit of Britain™. Not too much – Brits don’t deal sensibly with spirits – but a big enough glug to keep us warm through the forthcoming winter of discontent.

It ended, as these things must, with an imploration to come together. A reminder that Britain was a fighting dog, not a dogging fight. And a vision of slightly better country. There would be no truck with gloomsters, and no truck with optimists. It shouldn’t be raining in those economic uplands, but you’d better pack a jacket just in case. This was the promise of Britain. Let sunshine and clouds rule the day!


Tom Bage is a member of Progress and tweets at @tombage