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Upbeat Tories kick off party conference

Latest update : 2008-10-01

Britain's Conservatives have every reason to sound optimistic as they gather for their annual party conference in Birmingham, though new polls show the Labour Party eating into the Tories' lead after its own conference last week.

Also read: Conservatives prepare for party conference


Britain's opposition Conservatives start their party conference Sunday believing that victory at the next general election is a distinct possibility for the first time in a decade.

But while the right-of-centre party's telegenic leader David Cameron is expected to attack Prime Minister Gordon Brown over his handling of the economic crisis, he has issued orders to guard against complacency.

Cameron will warn his party that victory at a national election which must take place by 2010 is far from certain despite leading Brown's Labour Party in opinion polls.

He has already cancelled an event on Sunday which had been designed to celebrate recent Conservative victories in local elections in London and in by-elections elsewhere, fearing that it paints the wrong picture.

Instead the conference in Birmingham, central England, will open with an emergency debate on the economy in a bid to show the Conservatives are sharpening their policies ready for a return to office.

In the debate, George Osborne, the shadow chancellor, and former party leader William Hague will analyse how the economic downturn is affecting individuals and businesses and set out their plans to ease the pain.

Boris Johnson, a talismanic figure for the Conservatives since wresting the London mayoralty from Labour in May, will also address the conference on Sunday.

The Conservatives have been outpacing Labour by up to 20 points in recent  opinion polls, but an ICM survey published in the Guardian newspaper Saturday showed Labour had cut the gap to nine points.

That was largely thanks to Brown's performance at Labour's own party conference where he warned voters contemplating a change in government that this was "no time for a novice" -- taken to mean 41-year-old Cameron.

Cameron retorted that Brown, in 10 years as finance minister before succeeding Tony Blair as premier in June last year, had laid the foundations for the current crisis in the markets.

"Yes, this prime minister has got experience; he has got the experience of building up the biggest budget deficit of any industrialised country, he has got the experience of designing the regulatory system that failed to prevent the first run on a bank in Britain in 150 years," the Tory leader said, in a reference to the near collapse of Northern Rock last year.

"He has got the experience of saying year after year 'I have ended boom and bust'. And yet now we face really difficult economic circumstances. Now, I don't think that is the experience we need right now."

Cameron's message in his conference-closing speech Wednesday will be that the party he has extensively modernised is taking nothing for granted -- but after three consecutive general election defeats, it is ready to return to office.

Date created : 2008-09-28