Thursday, October 05, 2006

Blogging from Bournmouth6- after diner, smell the coffee!

Lord Ashcroft makes a point at the Conservative Way Forward lecturn.
One thing that has changed since I have been going to conference is there has been a huge decline in the number of set piece formal dinners. At one time every faction in the Tory Party used to hold one during conference week. Allsorts from The Monday Club and the Selsdon Group on the right through to the centre-right Bow Group and TRG used to hold a formal evening meal. Now it is just Conservative Way Forward (CWF) who keep the tradition going.
This years guest speaker was Lord Michael Ashcroft. The dinner was a sell out with guests including Angela Watkinson MP, Andrew Rosindell MP, Greg Hands MP , most of the new Conservative Future team, and blogger Iain Dale. A sprinkling of A-List candidates such as Steve Brine and Conor Burns (who gave the vote of thanks with his customery wit and style) were also in attendence. With the predictable rubber chicken, it felt just like old times.
A hate figure for the left, Ashcroft believes he was smeared at attacked by New Labour and jounalists from The Times with the aim of unseating him as treasurer of the Conservative Party. In his 322 page book 'Dirty Politics, Dirty Times', (avalible to purchase in both h/b and paperback at
he sets out his stall and I think writes persuasively on how he had to endure a succession of what were really unjustified attacks and how he went on to clear his name. The amazing thing is that if they had concentrated on his off-shore tax status and his huge donations to the party with the (debatable) influence that it bought him, rather than resorting to lies and even criminal activity, they may have had more success in damaging him. Ashcroft certainly emerges as a resilient and driven man who responded to the smears with what Amanda Platell described as 'gutsy determination'. Lesser individuals would have packed it all in- after all his tenure was unrenumerated, (in fact it cost him a great deal of money) and no doubt at times, extremely stressfull.
Lord Ashcroft spoke almost exclusively of the work he had undertaken that was published as 'Smell the Coffee; A wake-up call for the Conservative Party'. this was a study of public opinion and a review of the Conservative Party's campaign for the 2005 general election and similar work that he had undertaken since.
(Buy it at
For those that don't want to buy it, a summary can be read at Lord Ashcroft's website
The speech itself was facinating. As he delivered it I wondered why on earth we had not ever tried to discover how the Conservatives were percieved by the general public in a scientific way before. After all, Philip Gould has been doing the same thing for Tony Blair for years. Uniquely for a political dinner, Ashcroft offered his analysis of what the British people thought of the Conservative Party, what political parties needed to poll to win a general election and how political parties needed to be percieved in order to win.
Unusually and refreshingly, he declined to speak on policy matters at all, concentrating almost exclusively on his research. I asked Lord Ashcroft what would be likely if the political parties were to fight the next general election on the same figures as their polls and his research was showing now. his answer was clear and illuninating; a hung parliament with the Conservatives as the largest single party.
Having a reputation as something of an outsider, both in politics and business, I wondered prior to the dinner if lord Ashcroft would come across as a little cold and remote. In fact he was charming and engaging. He took questions, posed for photographs and signed books for people that had bought them along both before and after the event and appeared to enjoy it as much as much of his audience.
Being very much part of the Thatcherite right, I wonder how many members of CWF in that room agreed with his summary that
'More than anything else we must make sure we understand Britain asd it is
today, and how Britain sees us. Until we do we will just continue talking to
It will be interesting to see how C.W.F. positions itself over the next year and wheather Lord Ashcroft's presentation influences those members that were present.
All in all, a most enjoyable and thought provoking speech, a great credit to the organisers.


Blogger Jeremy Moulton said...

I read 'Smell The Coffee' a few months go. It was a facinating piece of work. He spent about a million pounds of his own money on the polling which formed the basis of the book.

Lord Ashcroft is helping to transform the Confervative Party. He is teaching the Party to look beyond it's traditional supporters. We should take a great deal of interest in what he says. He is very objective as he is identifying the problems but not looking to impose or even suggest solutions.

6:38 pm  

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