Dispatch from the Tory conference: Osborne challenges NIMBYs and tech companies

Despite a tricky start to conference with poor polling, Mark Reckless' defection and the Sunday Mirror's sting involving Brooks Newmark, the feel at conference is one of bullishness.

Conservative Party Conference 2014 (picture credit Matt Cardy/Stringer/Getty Images)
Conservative Party Conference 2014 (picture credit Matt Cardy/Stringer/Getty Images)

The UKIP defection is being treated as a non-event with many in the party expressing a visceral desire to defeat Reckless; the Brooks Newmark sting is being viewed through the prism of entrapment and media ethics; and while many are perplexed by the polling (at a fundamental level they cannot understand how Ed Miliband could be ahead given his own standing), they want prominent policies to support a fightback. George Osborne did his bit admirably.

The party as a whole is delighted at the extensive front-page coverage of the abolition of a key pension tax, touching as it does on both the older vote and the inheritance tax debate, while also making pension investment much more attractive. 

There are also other aspects to note from his speech. First, a clear challenge to the more conservative wing of the party to "choose the future" and, it could be interpreted, not to just be the party of the NIMBYs – to understand that this is a party that will "tap the shale gas, commission nuclear power and renewables, and guarantee our energy for the future... build the high speed rail, decide where to put a runway and support the next generation with starter homes". In essence the party leadership is in the mood to be ambitious and this may well be good news for infrastructure sectors.

Second, the heavy targeting of the business vote. Labour has been cast as being "firm against firms", while the Conservatives want to be the "party of firms and of businesses and of people's incomes... jobs... and livelihoods". However, that support is not unqualified. All businesses should take note of how the technology industry was singled out. First with a welcome, then with a reproof.

The UK wants to welcome and woo technology companies and will do so through a low tax regime and fostering a favourable environment, but in turn those companies must "play by the rules" and pay their taxes, doing their bit to tackle the deficit. The Conservatives will not hold back if there is electoral advantage in defining the kind of businesses they want to work with.

Third, the appeal to the North, made more pressing by the post-referendum debate. More detail will be needed but businesses in the North and in manufacturing should consider how to align with the narrative of a "Northern powerhouse of the cities across the Pennines" and a "manufacturing revival" in the Midlands.

Personal stories also featured heavily on Monday – Matthew Hancock, Sajid Javid, Liz Truss and Patrick McLoughlin gave a sense of their personal commitment to their portfolios and their pride in what has been achieved – but little new was announced.

This is not to criticise their speeches; tactically it should be expected. Osborne's announcement was enough for one day. David Cameron must now deliver and hope his team maintains the positive mood. So far he has spoken well and delivered a rousing speech at the ConHome reception, sponsored by Canary Wharf and Heathrow, on Sunday night.

The consensus among those attending was that if he gives such a passionate speech on the main stage then the troops will truly rally.

Nikki da Costa is managing director of public affairs at Bellenden

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