For months the UK opposition party has known that its last party conference before the next election could well be overshadowed by Irish vote on the Lisbon Treaty. They also suspected Gordon Brown's ailing government would attempt to throw a spanner in the works with leader David Cameron marching ahead in the polls. Finally the Conservative party knew its shadow Chancellor, George Osborne would have to outline a credible plan for cutting Britain's soaring budget deficit if elected.
Europe and the Lisbon Treaty
So the Irish voted "yes" for the Lisbon Treaty at the second time of asking. The Conservative Party has been divided over Britain's place within the EU since the days of Thatcher and has crashed to 3 electoral defeats to Tony Blair's Labor Party whilst fighting over whether to sign up to greater integration or sit out the EU project on the sidelines.
So on Sunday as the party gathered in Manchester the blonde bombshell struck. I am not talking Paris Hilton or Lady Gaga but a political rock star, London Mayor Boris Johnson, who says he wants a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty after being asked about the prospect of Tony Blair becoming the next president of the EU. The UK media explodes with reports highlighting the renewed divisions over Europe. Cameron has said he will hold a referendum if the treaty is not ratified before the next election.
So what does the Conservative high command do? It sends Johnson out onto the conference floor to tell anyone who will listen that there is no division, things are being blown out of proportion and take the storm surrounding his comments onto the 16:00 train to London. The hardest working man in Manchester that Monday afternoon was gone and it was hoped the talk over division over Europe would go with him, clearing the way for George Osborne's key note speech on the economy on Tuesday.
Enter Brown and Darling
The move worked, but only after some intervention from the government, which had a miserable conference in Brighton last week. News leaked from London that public sector pay would be frozen for much of the bloated public sector. Draw your own conclusions on why this was not announced last week, but the result was the story of European divisions was knocked off the headlines whilst moving the debate onto the ground Cameron and Co had hoped for.
Cue emails from the Conservatives claiming the government was finally catching up with its policy agenda. We are the party of balancing the budget who will reverse the bad decisions taken by a discredited government and lead Britain back to financial health claimed Cameron's team. OK guys, but we really need to start hearing some serious answers to some serious questions when Osborne makes his eagerly awaited speech.