David Cameron had plenty to respond to today, and respond he did

Nik Darlington 1.58pm

Well I wrote last week that Ed Miliband’s speech to the Labour party conference would “strike a chord”. I also wrote that David Cameron, in his own speech today, would have to respond by “uniting under a common banner” and set himself out as the true custodian of One Nation politics.

He did it. With a speech as tight as Mr Miliband’s was free-form, David Cameron did as he does best. Reassure at the moment of least assurance; strike at a moment of weakness; go on the offensive when seemingly on the back foot.

With the economy still in a sticky place, the opposition leader’s own surge and sections of his own party squabbling (and enjoying doing so, it seems), Mr Cameron had little right to appear so confident.

Yet this was a speech of optimism, expecting the best in people and rejoicing in our nation’s successes; rather than pessimism, not expecting enough of people and putting the country down.

It had good jokes. The Labour party, as I said last week, cannot truly be a “One Nation party”; it is also perhaps unfair to call it a “One Notion” party, but the exchange of one vowel for another drew plenty of laughs. Not as witty as Mr Johnson, but a worthy quip all the same.

The most important message was contained in one word: “work”. Or maybe two: “hard work”.

It wasn’t that Britons don’t work hard enough, the asinine impression willingly given by the authors of Britannia Unchained. It was that a lot of people in Britain do work very hard indeed, but to “swim” rather than “sink”, we all need to redouble our efforts to compete in the global economy.

The spirit of the Olympics and Paralympics was conjured up to demonstrate the values of hard work and dedication. Mr Cameron’s disabled father’s parable of working to provide your family brought warmth, depth and experience to this very important passage.

"Hard work", "strivers", "aspiration Britain" - call it what you will. Mr Cameron gave a convincing speech that managed to combine caution with optimism, and the constraints of difficult times with the freedom of enterprise and ambition that Britain has always been known for.

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Miliband aims to fill a One Nation sized hole in today’s Tory party

Giles Marshall 11.24am

Of course Ed Miliband is not a One Nation leader. There is too much of the class warrior about him for that, even in his snide reference to his comprehensive schooling.

But his prominent and frequent use of the ‘One Nation’ idea in yesterday’s conference speech teaches us something important about both the Labour party that he leads, and the Conservative party that used to be the traditional home of One Nation politics.

First, the Labour Party. The reason Mr Miliband has grasped so enthusiastically at the One Nation philosophy is that there is simply nothing left for him to plunder from Labour’s own stocks. In its prime, the Labour party promoted a form of democratic socialism that was red-blooded in tooth and claw. It served a purpose, certainly, but gradually even the modest western form of socialism stuttered into obsolescence as its doctrines failed to really grasp the nature of liberal capitalism.

Labour’s most successful leader – Tony Blair – was never much hamstrung by ideology, but did seek to find a replacement brand through such woolly concepts as the ‘Third Way’, and the naming of his party as ‘New Labour’.  Mr Miliband is on the same search, and has currently found a home in a tortured version of a famous Conservative brand.

There can be no greater evidence of the ideological failure of social democracy than that it seeks to find shelter under the principles of one of the greatest Tory leaders in history. The Labour leader’s speech was accomplished but it was built on political sands that shifted even as he spoke.

Whatever his own party’s failings, Mr Miliband has nonetheless gifted Conservatives an insight into our own condition. It has come to a pretty dismal pass when we have managed to so forget our roots that we have left it to another party to take up what should be the core element of our own principles. Mr Miliband seized on One Nation with such alacrity because he noticed that the Conservative party appears to have abandoned it, and he believed it would embarrass Mr Cameron to be reminded of his failure fully to modernise and moderate.

It might be useful to remind ourselves why One Nation Toryism is the most successful incarnation of Conservative politics to have been presented to the electorate, and why we abandon it at our peril.

One Nation was about recognising the need for any political party to apply itself to all the diverse needs of all people in this country, and not to simply let one part of the nation – usually the wretchedly downtrodden incapables stuck in their visceral cycle of decline  - wither into neglect. This was especially the case for Disraeli’s own Conservative party as it faced the challenges of a widening franchise and a perception that it only represented the interests of the landowning classes.

One Nation was a useful and very non-specific idea. It is no surprise that it actually surfaced in a great work of fictionSybil, from whose Tory protagonist these pages take their name.

Nevertheless, it achieved practical form when Benjamin Disraeli finally took office for longer than a few months, carrying with him this notion of a unifying Conservatism, caring as much for the poor and dispossessed as it did for the wealthy and powerful, did achieve practical form.

That this was under the aegis of an energetic Home Secretary, Richard Cross, rather than Disraeli himself matters not a bit. Cross enacted a raft of activist social legislation – such as improving labourers’ dwellings, making public health reforms and protecting workers’ rights in factories – which considerably advanced the practical cause of One Nation Toryism.

He would be followed in the twentieth century by such luminaries as Neville Chamberlain, one of the most positively reformist health ministers to hold office, and Harold Macmillan, with his ambitious commitment to a vast house building programme out of public funds.

The sad thing is this: so strong today has become the hold of the classical liberals within the Conservative party that we have forgotten how to show empathy and real compassion for those people less able to fend for themselves. The Conservative party today represents the interests of the self-helpers more than anything. This is the root of so much Tory hostility towards public services, or to government aid to various groups, or protective legislation.  This is the vacuum that Mr Miliband seeks to fill.

David Cameron often cites Benjamin Disraeli as his favourite politician; and he came to power as a leader apparently committed to reviving the Tory One Nation tradition.

The 'big society' was one outworking of that idea, denuded though it was of much practical consequence by its separation from any genuine form of government funding or support.

The sad thing for Mr Cameron is that his roots in the Conservative party have been too shallow to allow him to gain much strength, with the result that he has quickly become buffeted by the prevailing winds which, in the modern Conservative Party, are predominantly rightist – or classical liberal, to use their ideological heritage. As such, he can appeal happily to the relatively small proportion of the electorate who want government to retreat from their affairs, stop providing welfare, and emasculate public services. His appeal to the majority is correspondingly weaker.

It may be that Mr Cameron can revive his rhetorical commitment to One Nation Conservatism at next week’s party conference. He’s good at that. He remains an accomplished speaker.

But unless he deals more effectively with the gulf opening up between him, his party and the legions of voters who depend upon an efficient but strong and compassionate, One Nation concept of government; unless he finds roles for the few remaining One Nation Tories still in Parliament; and unless he starts standing up to the narrowing strictures of the powerful classical liberal wing, he will leave Mr Miliband an open goal. And on present form, Ed Miliband may end up scoring.

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Miliband’s ‘One Nation’ conference speech will strike a chord

Nik Darlington 3.58pm

"What does it mean to the Labour party to be One Nation?

We must be a One Nation party, to become a One Nation government, to build a One Nation Britain.

We need a One Nation Parliament.”

Ed Miliband used the words “One Nation” 1,872 times in his walkie-talkie leader’s speech this afternoon. Actually I made that number up, because I lost count.

1872 was the year that Benjamin Disraeli made his own famous “One Nation” speech, also in Manchester, setting out his vision to unite the two nations of Britain and building the foundations of One Nation Conservatism.

As a political brand, “One Nation” has perhaps never been more relevant. For structural reasons of history, economics, class and society, the two nations of the Victorian age and after have taken some time to bridge. In our modern times, we should be doing better.

Disraeli laid the foundations. The mantle was assumed by future Tory governments and prime ministers, such as Stanley Baldwin, Harold Macmillan and John Major, as well as Liberal governments at the start of the 20th century. And in 1996, Tony Blair claimed the One Nation ideal for New Labour, which we mentioned last year on these pages. Then, as now, a young Labour party leader beat a One Nation Tory at their own game.

Ed Miliband gave a speech today of poise, humour, personality, passion and real warmth. He retains a certain gawkiness in speech and mannerisms. He still perhaps does not ‘look’ like a potential prime minister. But do not be surprised if this speech achieves a similar breakthrough to that of David Cameron’s in 2007, following a similarly note-free speech after a bumpy first two years as party leader. Mr Miliband will have endeared himself to many people today.

It was very light on policy, and therein lies a real problem with the Labour leader’s assumption that he can lead a genuine “One Nation” party and government.

Leave aside the fact that the Labour party is almost wholly unrepresented in rural areas, southern England and parts of the Midlands; that its grip on the Celtic fringe has waned; and that it is perceived with suspicion by businesses big and small.

Mr Miliband offered a clue that he does not really want to govern for the entire nation, making such a play of his comprehensive schooling (speaking to the 93%?) and indulging in naked class war against wealth creators and private enterprise. He derided the free market, which has its faults but remains the best foundation for the efficient allocation of resources. He also spent plenty of time telling the audience what he would repeal, rather than what he would enact afresh.

Conversely, look at just some of the Coalition Government’s record under David Cameron. On tax, the raising of personal allowances reduces the tax burden for thousands of the country’s poorest people - a Liberal Democrat policy that should have been adopted by the Conservatives long before. In education, Michael Gove’s reforms and extension of the Academy programme are closing the gap between the best and worst performing schools. ‘One World Conservatism’ is committing important and ongoing support to the world’s poorest people.

And Iain Duncan Smith’s vital welfare reforms are striving to end the invidious legacy of unbridled welfarism, which as much as anything in the past fifty years has entrenched two starkly different nations of Britain.

Nevertheless, I cannot sit back and smugly ask, “where’s the policy?” Because policy or not, this speech mattered. Mr Miliband’s tone was well pitched. He was approachable, compassionate and relaxed. He looked and sounded authentic. And at this stage in the electoral cycle, that is perhaps what matters most.

This is not the first time that Ed Miliband has expropriated the One Nation ideal. We reported in February on a speech about banking and small businesses, in which he called for “One Nation banking”. This will not be the last time. It will, I believe, strike a chord - for being audacious, different and refreshing. It will appeal to people in the same way that the One Nation philosophy always has, by combining compassion with efficiency.

Both Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband have now claimed to lead true “One Nation” parties. David Cameron has claimed on several occasions, most notably before the last election, that he is a One Nation Conservative. And the Prime Minister, as head of a Coalition Government and a modern Conservative party, remains better placed than Ed Miliband ever will be to speak from the centre, for and to the whole nation.

Can they all be right? Perhaps that doesn’t matter. But Ed Miliband planted a stake firmly in the ground today. David Cameron and the Conservative party must respond - not be deriding Mr Miliband and continuing false squabbles between ‘left’ and ‘right’, but by uniting behind a common banner.

They don’t have to call it “One Nation” if they don’t want to, but it seems it is a phrase that’s having its day.

Follow Nik on Twitter @NikDarlington

The fate of the Scottish Tories: survive and die, or die and survive?

Nik Darlington 9.03am

The contest they’re calling Tory Idol draws to a close this afternoon. The 8,500 Scottish Conservative and Unionist party members have been balloted by post over recent weeks for the new leader of that party - or, if one of the candidates has his way, an entirely new party.

Murdo Fraser, the Mid Scotland & Fife MSP and current deputy leader, has been the man making the running ever since he announced his intention to disband the “toxic” party and replace it with a “new and stronger party for Scotland, a new belief in devolution, a new approach to policymaking, a new name”. Mr Fraser’s idea has been widely canned by party grandees such as Lord Forsyth and by our very own Craig Barrett, on these pages, as “entirely cosmetic”.

However, a breakaway Scottish Tories has been tacitly welcomed by Downing Street, and leading Conservatives like Francis Maude and Sir Malcolm Rifkind have voiced their support. Mr Fraser also has the backing of the majority of Tory MSPs and many prospective Holyrood candidates and councillors, though there are suspicions that several MSPs are regretting having played their hand too early.

That is partly a result of Murdo Fraser’s bold plans unravelling at the seams, and partly a result of the determined surge of the young Ruth Davidson, only 32 and already a list MSP in fiercely anti-Tory Glasgow. Craig has written persuasively in support of Ms Davidson, because she is a winner and backed by “proven winners” such as John Lamont (an early contributor to these pages) and John Scott, both successful constituency MSPs. Craig pointed out that as much as 10 per cent of the Scottish Conservative membership could reside in Mr Lamont’s Roxburgh, Berwickshire & Ettrick constituency, which if they follow their respected representative’s lead hands a big advantage to Ms Davidson.

Jackson Carlaw’s campaign has been regrettably beset by illness. Although now lacking an appendix, the veteran party list MSP has put a considerable amount of heart into the contest. His performance at the Manchester party conference hustings was narrow in reach but stirringly passionate. Mr Carlaw has a vision for his party, yet it is too reliant on a rear-view mirror. The party may not have to change as drastically as Mr Fraser wants it to, but it has to change more drastically than Mr Carlaw can bring himself to.

A vote for Margaret Mitchell, wrote Allan Massie in The Scotsman, “would be like an expression of Jacobitism after Culloden, pure sentimentality”. As it might, with Mrs Mitchell being the only candidate to come across as opposed to the Scotland Act - and by extension the advances that legislation could afford for Scotland, which I have written about elsewhere. She may have turned up to the Manchester hustings with the biggest banner, but such cocksure ensigns will not translate into success for the Central Scotland MSP.

Rumours in The Herald last night reckon that turnout could be as low as 55 per cent, meaning the contest could be decided by as few as 5,000 voters. This is unexpected and if true something of a shame, given the interest that ‘Tory Idol’ has generated not just in Scotland but across the UK, where a lot of the Scottish Tory diaspora resides.

The TRG has allotted Scotland as the theme of 2011, and this blog devoted its first week to Scottish affairs. The former Foreign Secretary, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, wrote about Scotland and the AV referendum, which feels an age ago now, and I made my overoptimistically rash prediction about Scottish rugby, the scars of Six Nations failure still sore!

In those early days there was an article by James Wallis, titled ‘Where is the Conservative party’s distinctive vision for Scotland?’ James said:

"The Scottish Conservatives must have a strong, charismatic and independent leader to take a positively and distinctively Scottish vision both to the electorate and the party, and to place far greater emphasis on Holyrood as the centre of gravity for Scottish politics."

The two frontrunners, Murdo Fraser and Ruth Davidson, both offer this distinctively Scottish vision. In their own ways, they offer a break with the past that Mrs Mitchell and Mr Carlaw cannot.

With the votes in and being counted, predictions now might be worthless. The latest odds I’ve seen put Ruth Davidson odds-on in front, but I am not so sure. The potentially low turnout could aid Murdo Fraser’s campaign, which is more polarising yet possibly more motivated.

I am not convinced that Mr Fraser’s solution is the right one. However, come roughly 5 o’ clock this evening, I reckon it is a solution that the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party will have to come to terms with.

Follow Nik on Twitter @NikDarlington

Does Compassionate Conservatism still have a place in a poorer Britain?

Alexander Pannett 6.45am

The worsening economic forecasts have suggested that the age of austerity could be a much longer period than first envisaged.  The UK economy has grown by only 0.1 per cent in the second quarter and unemployment has risen to its highest level in 17 years.

Outside the UK, the erratic movement of unfettered global capital continues, as no state appears to be safe from the jitters of speculation.  Even China, up to now the main hope of global economic revival, has seen its CDS spreads widen to an unprecedented amount.

With this economic gloom acting as the backdrop to the recent Conservative party conference in Manchester, David Cameron was at pains to remind his party and the country at large of his original project to “de-toxify” the Tory brand by emphasising the Conservative party’s compassionate side.

But with such little money at its disposal and the severest public expenditure cuts since 1945, can the Tories truly convince the electorate that it is no longer the ‘nasty party’?

The reality is that the terms that have defined Compassionate Conservatism must change to fit the needs of the people it attempts to help.  Right now, people do not want concern for their plight.  They want the security of employment.  Minor policy initiatives that might put a little extra money in people’s pocket are admirable but they are no substitute for the salvation that a job brings.  Mr Cameron should demonstrate his compassion by doing all he can to bring jobs to deprived areas. The Government’s Enterprise Zones initiative in economically disadvantaged areas is a strong step in the right direction.

David Cameron must not make the economist’s mistake of seeing GDP growth rates as indicative of increased employment or of a rejuvenated society.  This recession has exacerbated the widening gap between rich and poor.  Mr Cameron should take no comfort in strong economic growth in already affluent regions of the UK, which acts as a mirage of economic and social wellbeing.  For him truly to govern as a Compassionate Conservative he must bring opportunity to those areas that are economically and socially disadvantaged.

The Government should invest in infrastructure in those areas in order to inject direct capital expenditure, which will lead to jobs.  In a recession this is an effective way of supporting a region, while Enterprise Zones encourage private companies to invest locally.  The Government could spin-off parts of Lloyds and RBS into a national bank that lends directly to small and medium sized companies and encourage growth in disadvantaged areas.

The Government should cut regulation that dissuades companies from setting up in disadvantaged areas.  Ministers should also do more to move civil servants from economically buoyant regions such as the South East to more deprived regions, such as the North East.  Planning laws in disadvantaged areas should be made as flexible as possible, without taking unnecessary risks with the environment, to prevent hindrances to economic development.

Lastly, the Government could do more to reverse the ‘brain drain’ out of deprived areas towards the South East of England.  As well as using Enterprise Zones to offer tax incentives to companies, it should also consider lowering income taxes for individuals in regions with long-term unemployment. Or even income tax holidays.

Compassion must bring real opportunity to those in socio-economically disadvantaged areas.  Empathy without action will not fill stomachs nor will it fill hearts with hope of a better tomorrow.

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Central bankers, not politicians, will be the ones guiding the global economy to safety

Matthew Robertson 7.59am

Ever heard of Paul Reid? What about Sir John Parker? John Deacon?

You’ll be forgiven for not knowing who two thirds of the above are but I’m sure a lot of you know what Ben Bernanke, Jean Claude Trichet and Mervyn King do for a living.

They are the fine tuning, careful helmsman of the Western economies. The men, who before 2008, were mostly concerned with raising/decreasing interest rates a percentage point or two so that inflationary pressures would not embed themselves in the economy.

Like now, they were hardly household names and even though their roles were fundamental to the world economy, the measure of their success was determined by the consistency of their approach and the expected headlines they each produced. This was the Guardian in 2006:

‘Interest rates were left at 3.25% but the ECB president, Jean-Claude Trichet, sealed market expectations that rates will rise next month by saying that vigilance was needed on inflation pressures.’

The Economist in 2007:

‘Ben Bernanke talked about “generally favourable financial conditions” and enthused—as much as a Fed chairman is allowed to—about “fairly brisk” financing activity in bonds and business loans. Mr Bernanke also talked about the Fed’s continuing concern over inflation. Nothing new here, really.’

And the FT in 2005:

‘But with money markets now expecting at least one quarter point interest rate cut this year and another early next year, Mr King’s emphasis on the risks of higher inflation appeared designed to correct the recent notion that interest rates would soon be cut.’

Inflation was the key problem and the tool at the disposal of central bankers to tackle it was setting interest rates. Economics had enabled solving the problem of inflation whilst continuing solid growth. Central bank independence removed the threat of politicians manipulating monetary policy to coincide with electoral cycles and by having a credible committee to keep inflation around a certain target, inflationary expectations could be tamed.

This was the job of a central banker, staying behind the scenes ensuring that inflation was kept under control and the economy smoothly elevated. A similar role to that of Paul Reid, Managing Director of National Air Traffic Services (NATS), who ensures the safe and orderly movement of aircraft along our air routes. Every little decision can have a monumental effect, a small deviation can set the course of the economy/aircraft on a cataclysmic path.

Of course the financial crisis of 2008, for which we are still suffering from, dispelled any belief that economics had solved the problems that had dogged it for years. Growth across the Western world is still stagnating and inflation is well above target in most Western economies.

Throughout the conference season you will have heard a lot from Cable, Osborne and Balls on their suggested paths for the UK economy. There is no doubt that the role of fiscal policy is important in negotiating the turbulence ahead but the key to the recovery lies with the controllers, the fine tuning, careful helmsman of the economy. A fiscal stimulus will have little impact if detrimental monetary policies are pursued at the same time.

A cautionary tale comes from Europe. The crisis devouring the Eurozone has various causes, not least the failure of European politicians to tackle the underlying problems, but the rate increase from 1.25% to 1.5% by the ECB on 7th July has not helped. ‘The entire continent would benefit from maintaining price stability and confidence’ exclaimed Trichet but the exact opposite has happened. As a result of the increase, borrowing costs increased for countries such as Spain and Italy, who unlike Greece are suffering from a problem of liquidity not solvency. On the back of the ECB’s decision stock markets fell across Europe and unemployment increased 150,000 to 10% from April to July and has stayed there ever since.

As the West confronts the dilemma of credit and liquidity the central banks will have to assist in every way possible and so the old rule book of maintaining price stability through setting interest rates may have to be altered.

Interest rates must be kept low to ease the pressure on companies and individuals’ cash flows. This is the lifeblood of the economy and maintaining liquidity must be at the top of every central bank’s agenda. A job reminiscent of Sir John Parker, chairman of the National Grid, who ensures that electricity generated anywhere in Great Britain can be used to satisfy demand elsewhere at any given point.

The systems are so interconnected that any break could have devastating effects. This is the exact dilemma central bankers face today. Central banks must maintain liquidity to ensure that money can reach businesses and individuals elsewhere when needed. By keeping interest rates low, central bankers can assist with ever increasing liquidity troubles.

You will have heard a lot about Cable’s fiscal stimulus, Balls’ VAT cut and Osborne’s credit easing over the Conference season. However, as the UK hovers over a possible double dip, America endures increasing unemployment and the Eurozone faces collapse it is the air controllers and energy deliverers of the economy who will have the biggest impact on our lives.

As for John Deacon, he was the solid bass player of Queen whose great hits would not have happened without him, but you already knew that didn’t you?

If Mr Cameron gives a bit more, Britain might give a lot more back

Jack Blackburn 4.30pm

Impressive, good delivery but oddly vacant.

David Cameron’s speech served both to inspire with what was said, but also to urge caution by what was not said. At the weekend, Andrew Tyrie wrote of the Conservatives being driven by policies forged in the age of abundance and still based in a pre-2008 era. The Chairman of the Treasury Select Committee offered his plans for growth. What Mr Cameron’s speech gave was a vision of a Britain with a smaller government, better education, unquestionable fairness and encouragement for enterprise, but it was a vision that is for a better, more affluent time in the future. Inspiring though some of this was, you wonder how much of it can be afforded at this moment.

Furthermore, the speech did little to allay the general public’s fears about the next 18 months. The plan for growth is focused on small businesses and whilst this is welcome, for ordinary citizens there must be immediate concerns about the cost of living.

There is the list that the Spectator's David Blackburn described as the “every little helps” initiatives – the council tax freeze, cut petrol duty, kept the winter fuel allowance - but will these be enough to help?

I have no doubt that David Cameron is a man of impeccable intentions. This speech was passionate, most powerfully on education, adoption, gay marriage and enterprise. This is a man with a vision of people doing it for themselves. People have always been more than happy to do that, and Mr Cameron cited examples in his speech, but they are constrained at the moment by higher prices and taxes, as well as stalling incomes.

Ed Balls, Labour’s shadow chancellor, is wrong about many things. However, he is right about a VAT cut which, on a week-to-week, day-to-day basis, will help people’s finances and ease pressures on the high street. There was no mention of VAT in the speech, and the Government needs to consider it and other measures to alleviate rising living costs.

Mr Cameron might just find that if he gives a bit, the people of Britain will give a lot back.

Follow Jack on Twitter @BlackburnJA

Tory grassroots in Manchester show little appetite for fighting Murdo Fraser’s separation

Nik Darlington 11.45am

The Scottish Conservative & Unionist party held a leadership hustings in Manchester on Monday. In a hotly contested debate (in an even hotter Midlands Hotel), Murdo Fraser, Ruth Davidson, Margaret Mitchell and Jackson Carlaw entreated an attentive audience to support them in their bids to lead a political party at rock bottom.

In an unscientific exit poll conducted by bloggers Tory Hoose, Mitchell languishes at the bottom with single figure support. She may have come with the biggest banner but left with the biggest mountain to climb. A late entrant to the contest, this is unsurprising. If the ‘traditionalists’ want to stop Murdo Fraser’s radical plan to change the party’s name, one (or both) of Mitchell and Carlaw (who polled a healthier 26 per cent) need to withdraw so not to split the vote.

For whilst each candidate tried to stress their unique qualities, in reality Davidson, Mitchell and Carlaw did little beyond define themselves against Fraser. There were smidgens, smudges and fudges of policy but only the provocative Fraser brings decisive change to the table, however misguided it might be to many.

It was Fraser who came out of the hustings with the slenderest of leads - 1 percentage point - over Ruth Davidson, although his younger challenger is a slim bookies’ favourite in a tight race.

Davidson is an attractive choice in many ways. She would become, I think, the first gay leader of a political party in the UK, and as Craig Barrett wrote last week, she has an interesting CV - “a Sunday School teacher and a former TA officer”. She also managed to get elected earlier this year in Glasgow, of all places. Unlike the other candidates, therefore, she is already a proven winner at the young age of thirty-two.

Yet whilst Davidson has attracted some high profile support, such as the respected John Lamont MSP and Leader of the House of Lords, Lord Strathclyde, it is Murdo Fraser who can count on more Tory MSPs. Were Davidson to win, she could struggle to lead a parliamentary party that wanted someone else. Nevertheless, the recent Sanderson Report envisaged a national leader who would appeal beyond the narrow political base.

Around the conference, however, the Tory grassroots are strangely uninterested. Ask people who they would choose and they struggle to name all of the candidates, proving that it isn’t only busy party leaders who forget names. Most have heard of Murdo Fraser’s proposal to create a new centre right party and many recoil from the idea, but scarcely care enough to express any preference.

Perhaps that is more remarkable, and for the traditionalists more concerning. The Conservative members here are overwhelmingly English and overwhelmingly uninterested in the Scottish leadership. When pushed, most members disagree with Murdo Fraser, and almost all members support the Union; but the lack of appetite for this contest gives the impression that their Scottish kin are very much already on their own.