Compassion and conflict

David Cameron's centrist conference speech contrasts with the mood outside

Michael Stott listens as the Prime Minister gives the country his vision

There was a definite division on display at Conservative Party conference this week, and the security fence around the conference centre showed it physically and metaphorically. 

Outside the vitriol hurled by protestors at delegates was at times shocking. Inside David Cameron used his speech to try and entrench the Tories on the centre ground, with plenty of references to equality and compassion.

In his major keynote, the Prime Minister called for a Greater Britain, with security, stability and opportunity the watchwords. Time and again the audience stood and applauded as a Tory Prime Minister said inequality was holding back society. This was a play for the country, not just the party. 

There was meat for the Tories in there - a commitment to four new Trident-carrying submarines for example - but by and large Cameron spoke to the nation and its concerns. He said social services must improve or be prepared to be taken over. He opened up the opportunity of affordable mortgages. This is a Prime Minister with legacy on his mind - and it's clear that is in part about keeping the Tories in power for a generation.

Cameron name-checked a few of his ministers, but it was someone not of full Cabinet rank - Boris - who got a standing ovation when mentioned in the speech. This underscores the fight George Osborne has on his hands if he wishes to replace his friend and boss at some stage.

Commentators were out to find division at this year's conference, but they found relatively little - at least on the surface. Europe did not cause a distraction, but that was largely because everyone knows it is a battle still to be fought, and one that will be very bruising when it comes. Instead, delegates got a vision of a sunny future under the Conservatives, and on leaving the conference centre, a stark reminder that some will fight very hard to prevent them from selling the message that they are indeed compassionate conservatives. 

Photograph: David Cameron MP

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