Britain’s opposition Conservatives started their party conference believing they were odds-on to form the next government but ended it on Wednesday with their lead in the polls shrinking.
Many Tories will have gone home fearing that the economic crisis that dominated the four-day annual gathering may have given fresh impetus to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s Labour government.
At times, the center-right Conservatives looked as if they were running to keep up with events.
Leader David Cameron was forced to rip up the agenda in response to the fast-changing financial picture, making two unscheduled speeches on the economy and dedicating a chunk of his keynote speech to it as well.
Difficult times lay ahead, he admitted, and he was “a man with a plan, not a miracle cure.”
As Cameron’s party has looked united, Brown has faced a bid by a group of Labour lawmakers to force him into a leadership election, but the prime minister bounced back with a speech underlining his experience last week.
As a result, after leading Labour by more than 20 points a few weeks ago, the Conservatives’ lead has been cut to 12 points, a ComRes poll for the Independent newspaper showed on Tuesday, with an election due by 2010.
“You can’t prove you’re ready to be prime minister — and it would be arrogant to pretend you can,” Cameron said. “The best you can do is tell people who you are and the way you work; how you make decisions and then live with them.”