I saw the dark side of the Tories today, their nutters. First there was an absolutely barking mad woman sat at the front of an IoD fringe meeting who said "all regulation should be abolished," which even John Redwood on scary mad-eyed (brilliant) form had to correct her. Secondly, I put my head round the door of a Freedom Association meeting at the Bridgewater Hall and Redwood was there again. Then I got really scared when I stopped for a chat to the people from the Taxpayers Alliance. I chose not to take a car sticker with "Love Europe Hate the EU" on it.
This morning Philip Hammond was impressive again in a debate where he got wound up by Polly Toynbee from the Guardian. He is quite resolute in the need to balance the books. George Osborne's later announcement about public sector pay freezes is part of the package of reform he is wrestling with. I suspect he has been doing the work for Osborne in this.
It's been interesting too to see how the policy to "reform the regional development agencies" has been interpreted as "abolish" by very senior speakers at events. The glum looking officials from the NWDA that we see around the place have, until now, been putting a brave face on things. But it's a visible quick fix that rouses the rabble. Presumably now every two bit local authority will have their own economic development, regeneration and tourism marketing people to make up for what the NWDA won't be doing. How's that an effeciency?
I was disappointed not to get in to see a fringe event on Conservatives and Creative Industries organised by NESTA and featuring Jeremy Hunt and Martha Lane Fox. A small and very frightening posh lady turned up even later than me, seemed just to be on the verge of saying to the doorman "don't you know who I am", but withdrew gracefully to fold her Burberry coat over a chair in the coffee area.
Tomorrow me and my pal Steve Connor are satiating our intrigue in the ideas of "progressive conservative" Philip Blond at an event organised by his think tank Respublica entitled "A new Conservative political economy and the common good".
At the North West reception last night I detected a certain triumphalism. They need to be careful about that. I'm spending some more time around and about them tomorrow and will see if that has been nipped in the bud. They've been told to say "if" not "when" they win an election and have been warned not to drink champagne.
That said, on Thursday David Cameron has to whip them up with a message to put fire in their bellies. Presumably it won't be: "go back to your constituencies and prepare for a coalition." It certainly won't wash with the nutters, but they have always been part of the problem.