All the better to eat you with…

Sabah Hussain stops the photo shoot for a super important phone call..

Sketch of the Conservative Party conference in this morning’s CNJ

THIS time last year these conference columns came with a soothsayerish, albeit trite, forecast: “How bittersweet would it be for our Tories if they won a general election but lost their stake in Camden’s politics on the same day?”

And look what happened.

We know Labour will always claim that the Conservatives did not win the General Election and it’s true that the failure to land seats like Hampstead and Kilburn – by just 42 votes – forced the Tories into a coalition with the Liberal Democrats rather than the majority government which had previously seemed on the cards.But their top people, from Pickles to Warsi, to Osborne to Cameron, had the strut of winners as they strode among the delegates lost in Birmingham’s International Conference Centre, a multi-level spaghetti junction of steps and overhead walkways.

They meted out new policies from the stage which seemed to be catching their own delegates  by surprise – some of them trailed neither in the election manifesto nor the coalition agreement hatched with the Lib Dems.And every speech from a top-table Tory began with some elaborate crow along the lines of it is with the greatest of wonderful pleasures in the world to be at a party conference where we are in government once more.

The words rearranged each time, the sentiment always the same – we won, even if you say we didn’t.While the Conservatives were much discussed at sessions held at the Lib Dem conference in Liverpool last month, the same time and attention to what the Lib Dems might want from this whole enterprise was hardly on the agenda in Birmingham. In fact, in fringe meetings and the conference hall, a Martian could have been forgiven for thinking here was the government in its entirety.

It should be a warning to the Lib Dems – those harmless, cuddly Tory grannies in the comfy seats seemed to have mighty big teeth. All the better to…Camden’s Conservatives relished this clinical atmosphere, even as the Cabinet burped out some messages not previously telegraphed by all of its members.It makes a difference going to lunchtime events to hear a minister – rather than a shadow minister – speak. The channels of communication are there.

Largely losers in Camden in May, there is that bittersweet feeling predicted last year. But many feel they are at least tapped into important decisions at Whitehall. There are special advisers and researchers in the home ranks. With that relationship will come responsibilty. Critics will argue that this week should have been about winning concessions for Camden on changes to the benefit system rather than the wine and nibbles. For the Tories, it was about reminding everybody whose in charge now, whether you like it or not.

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