Manchester Central is a beautiful, cavernous conference venue. But it also seems to be acting as a bit of an atmosphere sink today. When Grant Shapps bounded onto the conference stage after the party’s tribute to Baroness Thatcher, he might have expected that his speech, which was full of the sort of fare that Tory grassroots love – attacks on Labour and the trade unions and a reminder that Abu Qatada no longer haunts these shores – would have gone down to uproarious applause. But though delegates clearly liked his speech, they never really warmed up. If this continues through the week, it won’t help diminish the impression that political conferences are dying.
Still, Shapps did have some neat turns of phrase in his speech. He threw back ‘Britain can do better than this’ at Ed Miliband, telling the conference that Britain could do better than a Labour government. He said:
‘Friends, it’s our job to make sure we never hand the keys to Downing Street back to the despicable, smearing, scandal-ridden, squabbling, divided-party who crashed our economy in the first place. Because Britain is better than that. British people deserve better than that
And he continued that long-planned ‘weak’ attack on Ed Miliband. Clearly the party was rattled enough by Labour last week to feel it needs to deal with Miliband upfront. But clearly ministers also see the ‘Britain can do better’ line as a weak spot for Labour, not a killer slogan.