Dispatch from the Tory conference: Boris stitches up the 'kippers'

On Tuesday conference delegates once again knew what to expect from the frontbench team: key announcements were trailed by all the media.

Conservative Party Conference 2014 (picture credit Matt Cardy/Stringer/Getty Images)
Conservative Party Conference 2014 (picture credit Matt Cardy/Stringer/Getty Images)
We knew there would be announcements from Theresa May to tackle terrorism and from Chris Grayling on the European Court of Human Rights, and that Jeremy Hunt's thunder had been completely stolen by David Cameron's pre-emptive briefing of the media on providing GP access 12 hours a day, seven days a week.

So the question remains; why sit through a conference speech if you already know the content? 

Three reasons: love of a particular politician; to get a sense of the dynamism of the individual speaking; and to see how on-side the audience is – how willingly, at what volume and for what length of time will they applaud.

Boris Johnson's speech certainly fell into the first category. Those present were treated to a well crafted speech, liberally scattered with 'bons mots' and trademark bluntness, and they were in the mood to be delighted.

Grins and applause followed his remarking on "the baggage handlers [of Ed Miliband's] memory [going] on strike", his faux-modest acknowledgement of being just a "municipal toenail" and a "parliamentary candidate", through to giving his audience "permission to purr" over the referendum result, and summing up a "new a Fisheries policy... first chuck Salmond overboard and then eat the kippers", before finally a prolonged ovation as he called them "to the barricades".

There was, however, another star with a keynote speech, one of David Cameron's so-called "team of leaders" – Theresa May (George Osborne and Johnson being the others). 

Delegates were treated to an opportunity to compare and contrast both contenders, with their speeches following in quick succession.

In contrast with Johnson the subject matter was heavy – police discrimination relating to stop and search and the terrorist threat.

It was a statesmanlike speech of a very different style, where applause seemed to be more disruptive than welcome.

The standing and wholehearted ovation at the end, however, proved the value of staying true to her own style.

The consensus appears to be that May won the day in terms of any future leadership bid.

Meanwhile a spectre haunted conference.
Names were being bandied about in acknowledgement that UKIP would love to orchestrate another MP’s defection on the day of Cameron's speech.
It would play beautifully to the media and unnerve the party; rebuking all for contemptuously brushing off Mark Reckless' departure. 
At the time of writing, only the defection of the donor Arron Banks had been announced, which is not quite the killer blow feared. 
There is still time, but one suspects the danger may have passed.
Two small asides
Firstly, take the time to read, or even scan, the text of Nicky Morgan's speech, alongside those of Liz Truss, Matthew Hancock and Sajid Javid. 
The similarity of style is quite remarkable, with signature staccato statements interspersed with longer narrative, and a shared vocabulary. 
From a comms perspective, an awful lot of effort is going into telling personal stories in the same way, subconsciously reinforcing the idea of a united team.
Secondly, backbenchers are being courted heavily. 
It is notable that the traditional "thank-yous" included in key Cabinet speeches are more extensive than ever, with key backbenchers from a range of intakes mentioned. 
Testimony, perhaps, to an overarching strategy of recognising colleagues and making sure as many MPs as possible feel the love and are brought inside the tent. 
Nikki da Costa is managing director of public affairs at Bellenden

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