One of those annoying phrases that always gets wheeled out by analysts is ‘a week is a long time in politics.’ The thing about clichés though is that they have only become a cliché by containing a fundamental truth.
Thus Brown, who was floundering a week ago, delivered a speech that shored up his position and seemingly threw down the gauntlet to the Tories with what one delegate described as ‘initiative Tourettes’; more hours of sunshine, death to be abolished by 2015, and a pet chinchilla for every school-girl to stroke at lunchtime. Party activists were thrown enough red-meat to ready them for the slog ahead whilst the decent reception for the speech itself meant that internal critics were effectively silenced.
Obviously, the defection of The Sun to the Tories was damaging for Labour, but with the declining influence of print media coupled to the fact that the timing of the announcement was so blatantly cynical (and expected), it may be the case that News International have shot their bolt too soon (incidentally, Rupert Murdoch is a former treasurer of Oxford University Labour Club- what this says about Murdoch, or indeed OULC, remains to be decided). All told then, Labour had as good a conference as they could have hoped for; only time will tell whether Brighton marked the start of a fight-back or was simply too little too late.
On the same theme of weeks being lengthy creatures, the Tories entered conference week with their bête noire, Europe, centre-stage after the Irish backed the Lisbon Treaty second time around. That the announcement of the result couldn’t have been more perfectly timed to inflame old divisions must have irked Cameron no end. That Andrew Marr’s line of questioning on Sunday morning focussed on his personal wealth must be an indication to Tory strategists that the kid-glove treatment is over.
At the beginning of the week all of the Conservative Party’s Prospective Parliamentary Candidates receiving a phone call not to discuss Europe with the press. This had the unintended consequence of Boris making Euro-mischief all on his own, culminating in an interview with Paxman that can only charitably be described as erratic. The same episode of Newsnight featured a focus group which will provide little comfort to Conservative HQ; anger and disaffection at the government, but little enthusiasm for the alternative.
One week on then, it is David Cameron who now has to step up to the plate and look like a Prime Minister in waiting whilst not appearing to take victory for granted. Can he do it? One thing’s for certain; by the time he receives his obligatory ovation tomorrow, the campaign for the next general election will have already begun.