Page last updated at 19:16 GMT, Sunday, 28 February 2010

Cameron rallies Tories but voter verdict still out

By Ross Hawkins
BBC political correspondent, in Brighton

David Cameron at spring conference
David Cameron told Tories to 'get out there and win it for Britain'

Conservative activists waited for over half an hour in a long snaking queue for the chance to hear their leader speak at their spring conference.

It was little surprise they came away happy.

David Cameron spoke without notes, without losing his way, and he sent them from the hall with the words: "Let's get out there and win it for Britain!"

With that, and Bryan Ferry's "Let's Stick Together" ringing in their ears, they headed off to their constituencies to prepare for the general election.

But the Conservative leader had warned, as well as roused, his supporters.

The coming campaign would prove a "real fight", he said.

The prospect of 'another five years' of Gordon Brown has become a key part of the party's message

In the bars and restaurants the chatter centred on the party's declining lead in the polls.

Several showed it had slipped into single figures. One suggested it stood at just two points.

Tory strategists were making the most of it.

The prospect of "another five years" of Gordon Brown has become a key part of the party's message, repeated by most of their spokesmen in most of their interviews.

Shadow defence secretary Liam Fox even conjured the image of Gordon Brown on the steps of Number 10 preparing for a fresh term.

The party thinks that prospect will persuade people to vote Conservative. The tighter the polls, the more realistic it sounds.

Optimism, urgency, radicalism he promised, a pointed reply to those who charge him with pessimism, complacency and timidity.
Benedict Brogan, Telegraph

But they would happily sacrifice that for a chunky double-digit advantage over Labour.

For a while no one will know whether David Cameron's speech gets them any closer to securing a bigger lead.

What matters is not the enthusiasm of party members who will endure a long queue for a political speech, but the voters who may see nothing more of it than a brief clip on the evening news.

The next round of polls will give an indication of their thoughts. It will take the general election itself to secure a final verdict.

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