David Cameron makes his keynote speech to the Conservative Party conference in Manchester. STVs Political Editor Bernard Ponsonby looks at the challenges facing Cameron.
For all that the Tories are well ahead in the polls, 2009 doesn't feel like 1996. Back then no-one doubted that John Major was toast and that Tony Blair was heading for a landslide. The only real question was whether it would be the biggest post war landslide or not. No, it doesn't quite feel like 1996 and in that sense David Cameron still has to 'seal the deal' with voters.
This therefore is the conference speech that will be analysed like no other. The judgement today is not whether he is a credible Leader of the Opposition, rather, does he look like the next Prime Minister.
George Osborne's speech on Tuesday may well have dealt in hard truths. But is has also re-invigorated the fighting spirit within the Government. The cuts offered by the Tories will hit real voters. Labour believe they can control the deficit without compromising the living standards of middle class, middle Britain. In that sense the speech today has got to persuade voters that the Tory prospectus outlines by the Shadow Chancellor is essential to reduce the national debt.
There can be no doubt that the Cameron strategy this week is high risk. By finally taking the first steps on the cuts agenda he raises the possibility that voters might just prefer Labour's cuts agenda to that offered by the Tories. There is just enough doubt around about the certainty of a Tory victory, all of which makes this speech a major signpost on the road to Downing Street.
Cameron has shown leadership in the past year not least in his roasting of colleagues caught up in the expenses scandal. Today, he has to show Statesmanship, that quality in politics that leads to the voters wanting to follow you. Attlee had it in 1945, so did Harold Wilson in 1964 and Tony Blair in 1997. (Voters were driven to Mrs Thatcher in 1979 rather than a desire to follow her. Thatcherism will pretty ill defined when the Callaghan Government fell).
Can Cameron start a crusade with this speech? Will it be bold? Will it, by force of argument and sustained eloquence, cast Gordon Brown as the day before yesterday's man? Or will it show him as shallow, inexperienced and not up to it?
It has been said that a Statesman is someone who can tell you to go to hell and make you look forward to the trip. Yes, modern politics is largely an exercise in verbal smoke and mirrors. And yes, it relies too much on the cult of personality.
But make no mistake, these personalities have to be big and they have to be tough. By the time the Tory faithful rise to their feet in predictable adoration today, hacks like myself will already have answered the question, is he a Prime Minister in waiting?