That sinking feeling again

IT'S wet, windy and the newspaper headlines are ghastly again - yes, it's the opening day of another Conservative Party conference.Just like Blackpool last year, Bournemouth yesterday was swept with near horizontal sheets of rain, gales and rough seas as the tail end of the transatlantic hurricane season spent its force on Tory delegates who had woken up to a battering from the media.

IT'S wet, windy and the newspaper headlines are ghastly again - yes, it's the opening day of another Conservative Party conference.

Just like Blackpool last year, Bournemouth yesterday was swept with near horizontal sheets of rain, gales and rough seas as the tail end of the transatlantic hurricane season spent its force on Tory delegates who had woken up to a battering from the media.

“Tory support slumps” and “the slow, strange death of the Conservative Party” screamed the front pages of two national papers as the Tories face a pincer movement from the Liberal Democrats and the UK Independence Party.

With one opinion poll showing support for the Tories on a derisory 28% - five points below this time last year - another revealed that one third of Conservative voters want Britain to withdraw from the European Union.


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The Tories are in danger of being outflanked by the Liberal Democrats, who are soaking up the Labour protest vote on Iraq, and UKIP, which is poised to win the support of voters who want to get out of the EU. UKIP's would-be leader Robert Kilroy-Silk - lest it be forgotten, he's a former Labour MP - said at the weekend that his party's aim should be to “kill off the dying Tory Party.”

Michael Howard cannot satisfy the Europhobes. He cannot deliver what they want because the Tories dare not advocate quitting the EU. He is promising to renegotiate Britain's EU membership, but that is isn't enough for those increasing number of voters who feel Britain's net contribution to the European budget would be better spent at home on the health service and our crumbling transport infrastructure.

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By moving further to the right, the Tories will not attract voters fed up with Labour. Tens of thousands who backed Tony Blair last time will either abstain, or vote Liberal Democrat, Green or Respect - they certainly won't vote Conservative.

The Tories' best chance for survival - and for gaining seats - is for the Lib Dems to take votes off Labour and for their candidates to win through the middle. Mind you, the ploy will fail if UKIP creams off thousands of votes in the Tory target seats.

THE photograph at the front of the conference booklet Timetable for Action proudly shows 13 of the 18 members of the governing Board of the Conservative Party - 11 white men and two white women. Party co-chairman Dr Liam Fox, in his opening speech, derided Labour's “tyranny of political correctness” but can a party which is not seen to be inclusive really stand any chance of ever winning in our major cities and towns?

OPTIMISTIC as ever despite facing a 5,000 Liberal Democrat majority, the Tories' jovial chap in Colchester has been given a key role at this year's conference. Parliamentary candidate Kevin Bentley, who used to be a presenter on BBC television and radio before starting his own PR business in the town, is fronting the party's closed circuit TV coverage in Bournemouth. “I shall be on screen for much of the week - and Colchester's name will be prominently displayed for all to see,” he says enthusiastically. At least, it keeps him out of the rain.

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