Perhaps inevitably, the spectre of Jeremy Corbyn loomed large over Conservative Conference in Manchester this week.
Inside the secure zone, fringe events and receptions debated the impact of Corbynism on their various industries. Outside, party delegates pointed to Corbyn’s influence on the large number of protestors screaming insults at anyone wearing a blue lanyard.
Whatever your view of the decision by Corbyn to attend a rally in Manchester, there can be little doubt that protests have been the nastiest in living memory and dogged the conference from start to finish.
That aside, the 2015 Conservative Conference can be summarised business as usual. It was absolutely packed to the rafters, with an endless list of fringe events and a strong turnout by the business community.
The decision to have Ed Balls’ vanquisher, Andrea Jenkins MP, introducing the Chancellor for his main speech had the party faithful in raptures. But there was little in the way of wild celebrations following May’s election triumph. Mission accomplished you would think for party whips who, according to rumours, had read the riot act to backbenchers not to step out of line during fringe events.
Nor did it feel like there were a huge number of policy announcements – aside from changes to business rates set out by Osborne on Monday.
Instead there was the pervasive view firstly that tough times lie ahead. Immigration, EU reform, housing, tax credits, the Spending Review – all big, divisive issues that worry both centrists Tories as potentially undermining the “workers party” and right-wingers.
Equally of interest is whether the Cameron administration will shift policy to the left in order to seize the new political middle-ground. The coup of capturing Labour’s Lord Adonis to run the Infrastructure Commission certainly could not have been better timed and is unlikely to be the last defect. Certainly, in the aftermath of his speech, media are now describing Cameron as “the new leader of the British left”. Party faithful will be watching keenly to ensure this does not come at the expense of fundamental Conservative principles.
Whatever the outcome, the next 12-months promise to be hugely testing for the new Government.