Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's Conservative Party opened its annual four-day political conference today in the western seaside city of Blackpool amid tight security measures and a determination to give the government a new sense of direction.
In his maiden speech as new party chairman, Norman Tebbit, who was seriously wounded in a bombing by the Irish Republican Army at last year's gathering in Brighton, chronicled the government's successes, including democratic reforms for trade unions, lowering of inflation, and ongoing denationalization of state-owned industry.
"We are confident that you will lead us not only to a third victory in the polls," Tebbit told Thatcher as she sat beside him before hundreds of cheering delegates, "but to the achievement of the property-owning democracy to restore our economic fortunes and our national unity. We will be there with you."
Clearly choosing to accentuate the positive in the government's performance, Tebbit made little mention of the record unemployment, falling manufacturing production and rising crime rate that have put the governing party in second or third place behind its opponents in recent polls.
In speeches throughout the rest of the week, culminating in Thatcher's principal presentation Friday, Cabinet ministers are expected to address those questions and provide the party faithful with new arguments to present to any doubting constituencies.
Thatcher's problems have been widely interpreted within the party as a failure of presentation, rather than policy. While numerous surveys among Conservative members of Parliament and party members indicate widespread approval of her program of "sound money," a streamlining of overmanned and unprofitable heavy industry, and a cutback in trade union power, they are concerned over a widespread impression that she is insensitive to social problems and the need for jobs.
Although much of the day's speeches were given over to attacks on the opposition Labor Party and the alliance of the Social Democratic and Liberal parties, some of those concerns were reflected in delegate comments at the podium. Tony Middleton, a Conservative member of Parliament from the declining northeast of England, told the conference that "in 1955, within five miles of my own village, there were 20 working [coal] pits, a railway and steelworks. All is now gone. Closed. Dead.
"After such a history," he said, "is it surprising that people feel neglected and ignored? This nation can only be a united nation if it is recognized in more prosperous circles that the industrial areas do have a worth."
Attention has been distracted to some extent from the substance of the conference by the appearance today of the first installment of memoirs written by Sara Keays, the former mistress of Cecil Parkinson, a married Cabinet member who was forced to resign when it was revealed she was about to have his child.
In today's installment in The Mirror, Keays, who served as Parkinson's secretary, said Parkinson told her what went on in Cabinet meetings during the 1982 Falklands War with Argentina, and other internal government information.