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Melanie Batley

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Tory Party Conference Day 1 - It's Grim up North

Posted: 02/10/11 19:36

Welcome to Manchester where the rain is falling and an estimated 30,000 people took to the streets today to protest against the Government's proposed cuts to public services and pensions.

The TUC and an array of left-wingers were out in full force to welcome the Tories as they rolled into town, and they certainly had an impact by creating a hostile feel. The streets are lined with swarms of police, while shouts, horns and whistles were audible for blocks of city stretch.

Mancunians are in good humour about the circus. Most seem sceptical of the Government, but would equally want to distance themselves from the protesters. 'Nutters on both sides,' laughed one police officer, with eager nods from a number of his colleagues. The locals are friendly but don't seem the type to be easily pushed around.

A quick stroll down several blocks toward the Conference Centre, past the 'Chippy' and McDonalds, and it's uncomfortable to note just how out of place even plain-clothed Conservatives look among the locals. The concentration of white, young, clean-cut men swarming around hotels on flashy smart phones seems out of place and artificial among the flow of normal people of all shapes, sizes and colours, living their lives in their down-to-earth, gritty city.

Maybe it's not significant. The political class in any country is a species of its own; perhaps it's unrealistic to expect that party workers and politicians will significantly reflect the look and behaviour of the masses. Then again, it's easy to see how average people may feel detached and disenfranchised from the political process when observing the uncivilised howls of the lefties, against the equally alien smooth self-importance of the chaps on the right.

The most important measure of a successful conference will be whether the Tories are able to communicate in a language that speaks to ordinary people. Though the conference slogan is a bit limp ("Leadership for a Better Future"), Cameron seemed to set-out with the right tone today when he said that he understands the hardships facing ordinary people as a result of the economic crisis.

These are the types of messages the people need to hear if they are going to connect with a party they still have mixed feelings about.

Let's see this week if the Party can trot out some policy announcements that make people believe they really will have a better future if they swing behind the Tories.