Hannah Withey: Conservative Party Conference 2012 diary - Day Three
I started the day with a visit to the Conservative Party's Social Action area, where Conservative activists from around the country help a deserving cause. This year's project is to help "Support Our Soldiers". It was a privilege to be able to offer a contribution to the project by packing one of many care packages to be sent to our troops in Afghanistan during the Christmas period.
The first major political event of the day was in the main hall with the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. He began his speech with the reassurance that he was ruling himself out of any challenge for the party leadership. He confirmed his support for David Cameron and backed the Prime Minister to lead the Conservative party to a general election victory in 2015.
Boris suggested that Britain should learn from the success of the London Olympics, where we created the right conditions to grow our Olympic gold medal haul from just one in 1996 to 29 in the 2012 games. The London Mayor suggested that it was government's job to follow this example and create the right conditions to grow our economy to ensure future economic success.
Following Boris is never easy and that task was left to the new Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt. Hunt paid tribute to Andrew Lansley's reforms, stating that they were "brave, right and they will make the NHS stronger."
Hunt added that under this Government, there has been an increase in the number of doctors while at the same time hospital waiting times are down. In addition, funding for the NHS has increased under the Conservatives while Labour would have reduced NHS spending, as they have already demonstrated in Wales. This proves that the Conservative Party is the Party of the NHS!
Next up was my own personal favourite session. As a former teacher, a new school governor and mum to a 6 year old; the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, is always a must-see when I come to Conference.
Some powerful points were made in the session. Firstly, schools are better when they are
independent and without the constraints of bureaucracy. Secondly, freedom within education should not be only for those who can afford it. Thirdly, schools are better when they are run by the teachers, who should be trusted. And finally, schools should be inclusive and ensure they stretch all children regardless of ability.
Michael Gove spoke passionately about ensuring children should receive the education they deserve and that every child should have the opportunity to continue into an apprenticeship, a vocational qualification or onto further study at university. As a school governor and a mother, this was refreshing, straightforward, common sense talking if you ask me!?
Off to lunch next, but little time for a break for the Liverpool Conservative team. The focus was on lobbying for a future Conservative conference to come to Liverpool, especially as we were sitting with the current and future Presidents of the Conservative Party Conference.
The whole Liverpool Conservative team were talking up our great city and its exceptional Arena and Convention Centre. Both key Party Conference decision makers were very positive following our discussions and the Liverpool Conservative team will continue to lobby on the city's behalf to secure the £20m windfall for the city that Britain's biggest conference would bring.
After lunch, it's back to the hall for the Home Affairs and Justice session. First up was Theresa May.
The Home Secretary's message was simple; the Conservative Party is the party of Law and Order. Under this government red tape has been cut, saving 4.5 million police hours, roughly equivalent to an additional 2100 officers.
The final speech of the afternoon was from the new Justice Minister, Chris Grayling. He stated that a change would be made to the law where householders acting instinctively and in self defence in the presence of a home intruder are victims and not criminals, and they will be treated in this way.
The law will remain on their side unless their response is grossly disproportionate - This was a welcome statement for everyone on the right side of the law and a victory for common sense!
Grayling also introduced the "Two strikes and you're out" rule. Anyone convicted of two serious violent or sexual offences will receive an automatic life sentence.
Some of the facts the new Justice Secretary revealed were shocking; half of all those released from prison will reoffend, a third of offenders had 15 or more previous convictions and three quarters of offenders have a severe or enduring mental condition, substance addiction or both.
Therefore Grayling insisted that rehabilitation was just as important as a strong deterrent, saying that it wasn't as simple as locking offenders up and throwing away the key.
He explained that prisons will provide a more meaningful rehabilitation regime and will provide inmates with the opportunity for proper skills and training. Grayling cited the Timpson scheme as an excellent example, where prisoners learn new skills and can apply for a job with the company upon release.
The new Justice Secretary recalled a time when, along with David Cameron, he had met with victims of crime in Liverpool -It's clear his time as Shadow Minister for Liverpool was time well spent.
He said that he hasn't forgotten the lessons he learned as Shadow Home Secretary and vowed to put victims and their families first with the introduction of a new Minister for Victims.
He left the conference with three messages:
To the law abiding; we are on your side.
To victims; we will support you.
To criminals; we will send you to prison, but we will also help you go straight.
After the formalities of the policy announcements in the Symphony Hall at the ICC, the evening was spent with Conservative colleagues and a well earned curry after a great day at conference.
Only one more day to go and I expect that the Prime Minister's speech tomorrow will be the
highlight of the week. I'm sure that with David Cameron on such good form this week, it will be another good day at conference tomorrow.
Hannah Withey is Chairman of the City of Liverpool Conservatives.