The Week in Review: Into the Mailstrom

Blue water, going down the plughole
Blue water, going down the plughole
Alex Stevenson By

The best speech of this week didn't come from David Cameron, or George Osborne, or even Boris Johnson. It came from a 12-year-old girl.

Xantaine Campbell was the last of four young speakers addressing the Conservative party conference just before the prime minister got up and did his thing. She was supremely confident. She put some of the performances we'd seen in this conference season from nervous activists to shame.

It was certainly a lot better than the Tory leader's effort. He substituted intensity of delivery for substance; there was little here and in the hall it felt like there were absolutely no new policies whatsoever. It was only after strenuous and belated briefing to journalists that the 'earn or learn' newsline began to emerge.

Even that was not enough to draw attention towards the biggest story of the week, which had nothing whatsoever to do with the Conservative party.


In a week supposed to be dominated by the Tories, the spotlight unexpectedly turned to another bastion of the right in British political life: the Daily Mail.

Its rather weak attack on Ed Miliband's father Ralph was more than a bit over-egged, allowing the Labour leader to kick up a massive fuss.

The story was already a triumph for the opposition before a Mail on Sunday reporter's attendance at the funeral of Ed Miliband's uncle took us to a whole new place.

Outrage from the left has been through the charts. Hatred of the Mail and everything it stands for was epitomised by Mehdi Hasan's Question Time rant, but politics.co.uk's parliamentary press gallery room-mate Quentin Letts put up a decent defence on the same programme.

Underlying these two stories - a relatively sluggish Tory conference enlivened only by the chance to crush some more welfare claimants, and an unusually large right-wing-press versus left-wing-politician spat - is a sense of politics returning to an older way of operating.

The gap between Labour and the Tories is growing. It's not just down to the logic of Ed Miliband's energy price freeze logic, either. Talk to activists in Brighton and you'll realise the old dividing lines of the 1970s don't hold as much significance to today's generation.

No, this is about something more fundamental. It's a struggle between the established interests of those in positions of power and influence, like the City and the press, and those prepared to challenge them.

I argued earlier today that those who aren't happy with the grip the establishment has over this country doesn't mean they automatically hate Britain. If anything, it's the tension between the establishment and those challenging it which makes the UK the country it is.

These are the big themes which will overlay the economic debate that will dominate the 2015 general election campaign.

This party conference wasn't really about specific policies at all, but the ideas behind the different approaches of those in power and those seeking it.

So it will come as something of a shock when parliament returns next week and we will be obliged to look at specific issues in detail.

The Commons has its own brand of politicking, however - one which has kicked off a little early with a big development at the end of this week.

Party conferences? We've forgotten about them already...

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