Grant Shapps used his speech this afternoon to the Conservative party conference to encourage Tories to not be shy. It’s not a charge you could level at the Conservative party co-chair himself, especially after he devoted the first section of his speech to talking about himself and his own election battles. He also revealed to the conference ‘exactly’ what David Cameron had told him on reshuffle day:
‘The day of the reshuffle I went to see the Prime Minister in Downing Street, and today I can reveal precisely what he said. “Grant, you’ve got one task as chairman, get out there and kick-start our campaign, rally the troops, take the fight to Labour and help us win in 2015.”‘
One of the things Shapps wants to do is to build up the confidence of the Conservative party to go out and boast about its achievements. He listed policy victories that the party was failing to sell to the public:
‘Why don’t we spend enough time explaining the good things we’ve done, in impossible circumstances? Why are we the shy tories? How many people know we’ve cut a quarter off the deficit? Cut tax for 24 million people? Taken another 2 million people out of tax entirely? Do they know that 457,000 people started apprenticeships – not since the last general election – but in the last year alone? And how many people , even in this hall, let alone the country, know that, at last, thanks to Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit, work will always pay?’
It’s interesting that he emphasised the Budget announcement that the personal tax allowance will be raised: that’s something the Lib Dems like to brief was as a result of their input in the Treasury this March. And on the deficit, polling by Lord Ashcroft in July found that voters are ‘pleasantly surprised’ when they discover that it has been reduced by a quarter. So there is a lot more shouting for the party to do.
He is also mindful of the effects that shouting will have on another group of shy people. As James reveals in his column today, Shapps and his colleagues working on strategy for 2015 suspect that the phenomenon of ‘shy Tories’ – voters who are instinctively Conservative but afraid to say they will vote for the party – is back. Trumpeting the party’s achievements on policies such as tax cuts for the low paid is an important part of attempts to coax those voters towards voting blue in 2015.
But asking ‘why are we the shy Tories’ was as much a little dig from Shapps at other members of the Cabinet who stay well away from the Newsnight studio as it was a rallying call to the grassroots. He has often been branded the Minister for the Today programme: clearly he expects his colleagues to do some of the legwork, too.