Conservative Party strategists are privately viewing this week’s conference as a ‘major success’ as they managed to avoid negative headlines for the second year running.
Earlier in the week, insiders had feared that mounting economic turmoil would push the Tories off the news agenda or – even worse – fuel Gordon Brown’s jibe that Conservative leader David Cameron is a ‘novice’. This week, the Tories also had to contend with opinion polls showing Cameron’s lead over Brown has halved amid the banking turmoil.
But Tory comms director Andy Coulson and strategy director Steve Hilton have gained plaudits for helping Cameron to adopt a serious and statesmanlike response to world events – including an unscheduled ‘emergency statement’ on Tuesday morning and a declaration on Wednesday that ‘character and judgement’ are more important than experience.
Speaking on Wednesday, a Conservative Central Office insider told PRWeek: ‘The conference is being seen as a major success internally. It could not have gone better. The key is that no-one cocked up, there have not been any negative headlines. And we also now have much more credibility when it comes to managing the economy.’
Prior to the conference, Tory aides had been frantically developing a series of domestic policies that were unveiled this week. But with the eyes of the world focused on the global banking crisis, many of the initiatives were ignored by the media.
Tory sources insisted this was not a problem and said it could even work in the party’s favour. ‘No-one is foc¬using on the policies, so we can reannounce them at a later date,’ said one insider.
Meanwhile, a senior Tory MP acknowledged the influence of Coulson at a fringe session organised by YouGovStone and Polis. Shadow culture secretary Jeremy Hunt admitted: ‘Andy Coulson has had a very positive influence on the Conservative Party by helping us to get our message out to the parts of the electorate we weren’t previously reaching.’
But Hunt also suggested that Coulson was not as powerful as Tony Blair’s former comms director Alastair Campbell.
Wednesday Cameron makes keynote speech as US Senate prepares for vote on $700bn bail-out package
Tuesday Cameron makes ‘emergency statement’, pledging to work with Gordon Brown on the UK’s economic problems
Monday US House of Representatives votes down bail-out package. The Dow experiences its worst fall in history and FTSE 100 drops 5.3 per cent
Sunday News emerges that Bradford & Bingley will be nationalised. Cameron says it was wrong ‘to throw the whole thing on to the taxpayer’
Saturday Tory conference starts with Cameron telling Gordon Brown he is ‘bust’