Following Labour's lacklustre conference and Ed Miliband's failure to mention the deficit and immigration in his keynote speech, the stage was set for the Conservatives to make the most of the opportunity. However, a defection and a sex scandal meant they started off on the back foot.
Also, somewhat unexpectedly, the polls still showed a bounce in support for Labour following its outing in Manchester. This too meant that the Conservative Party needed to get off to a flying start and party chairman Grant Shapps provided that impetus. His claim that defecting MP, Mark Reckless, had "lied and lied and lied again" set the tone. He went on to say "we have been betrayed". This barely disguised fury was common throughout those attending conference and continued throughout the week. Whereas photo-tweeting MP, Brooks Newmark, enjoyed huge sympathy, Reckless had none.
What followed, especially during the speeches delivered by Ministers, were reminders about what the Conservative Party stood for and what it would do if returned to government, preferably as a majority party, after the next election.
Looking at the Conservative conference, what has it shown us?
1) The Conservatives are the party of business - in the eyes of many in the Conservative Party, the ground gained by Labour amongst business under Tony Blair has been left vacant. The announcements made by Labour at their conference have emboldened Tory supporters to believe that can go out and secure the business vote once again. The Conservatives see this as an open goal.
2) The NHS will be an election battleground - instead of ceding ground to Labour in the NHS, the Conservatives believe that by taking the battle to Labour they can make up ground. Voters continue to trust Labour more than the Conservatives with the NHS and reforms introduced by Andrew Lansley and continued by Jeremy Hunt have failed to change this impression in any meaningful way.
By making the NHS pledge to protect its budget again, the story delivered in advance of the speech to the media, Cameron secured some favourable headlines ('Tory pledge to pour billions more into NHS', Daily Telegraph). However, the only way to really change attitudes over the NHS will be to go after Labour's pledges and try to undermine them.
We can expect tit-for-tat actions and promises on the NHS. There will also be more comments from Cameron and others along the lines of the "complete and utter lies" being told by Labour on the NHS. It will get nastier on both sides.
3) Ukip is the real enemy - whilst Labour was greeted with mistrust and distain, it was Ukip that came in for real fire across the whole of the conference. In wake of Reckless' defection, the level of bile and abuse reached fever pitch. Taking their lead from Shapps, MPs and activists continued to put the boot into their former member and UKIP.
This did though betray the very real worries that the Clacton by-election could be lost, more defections were possible and that Ukip would inflict real pain and damage at the General Election. This was further reinforced in Cameron's speech when he spoke of a vote for Ukip being a vote for Labour.
4) The party is training itself - a large stand in the exhibition area was given over to the training of party activists. This very public show of engagement left few in any doubt that the party wants its members to take the fight onto the streets and into the realm of social media. The materials will be made available to local organisers and chairs of local Associations. They provided a full range of ways in which activists can communicate the messages of the Conservative Party and, in effect, take the fight to the other parties.
5) The core is the key - showing the undoubted influence of Lynton Crosby, throughout Ministerial speeches, interviews and across the fringe, the Party delivered messages designed to reinforce its core. Lower taxes, reduced spending, a healthier business environment, controlling immigration, scrapping the Human Rights Act, strong in EU negotiations and economic stability came back time and again. These messages were stuck to with ruthless aplomb. It was clear what the party stands for and what you will get from them.
What really set the Conservative conference apart from Labour's was the passion and commitment shown in Cameron's speech. It was delivered in a way that even opponents admired even if they disagreed with or questioned its content.
It is the case though that some of his backbench MPs remain deeply unhappy about Cameron's leadership style. This was brought into focus by the commitments made to Scotland without any reference to them. Some expressed those feelings direct to the Prime Minister on the eve of conference. William Hague's commitment to deliver plans on English devolution by the end of March 2015, with or without cross party support, will take on special significance for these MPs. The plans may prove, one way or the other, whether Hague really is the "greatest living Yorkshireman".
The battle lines have been drawn and with a thin legislative agenda in place, the parties can really get going in their election campaigning.Suggest a correction