Meriden MP Caroline Spelman, the Conservative Chair, tells Political Editor Jonathan Walker that her party is set to win a General Election.

As the person responsible for preparing the Conservative Party for a General Election, you might expect Caroline Spelman to be downbeat.

Gordon Brown has proved himself to be a ruthless political operator since winning control of the Labour Party, recruiting Tory defectors, inviting Margaret Thatcher for tea in Downing Street and delivering a party conference speech which stressed his patriotism and support for family values - both traditional Tory themes.

It seems to have worked, with some polls showing Labour as far as 11 points ahead of the Conservatives.

And the Prime Minister is apparently considering holding an early general election, which, if the polls are right, could see him returned to office with an improved majority, leaving David Cameron's campaign to modernise the Conservatives in tatters.

But Mrs Spelman, the MP for Meriden and Conservative Chair, insists she is optimistic about the party's prospects.

The Conservative Party's position is much better than commentators realise, she insists.

While the media focused on council by-elections in mid-September which saw the Tories lose seats, including one in the Brandwood ward of Birmingham, less attention was paid to by-elections last week which saw the Conservatives make a gain.

And the wholesome praise being heaped upon Gordon Brown won't last for ever, she predicts.

"It's been said that we expected Labour's popularity to fall dramatically as soon as Gordon Brown took over from Tony Blair.

"That's just wrong. We discussed this in February, when the Shadow Cabinet had an away-day to prepare for the handover to Gordon Brown.

"New Prime Ministers always have a honeymoon, and that's what we expected.

"We haven't been surprised that he has had a honeymoon period. After all, David Cameron had a honeymoon period for 18 months."

Which brings up the issue of Mr Cameron.

He may have had a very successful start as Tory leader, but recent months have been more difficult with senior Conservative figures, including former Cabinet Minister Lord Tebbit and former Party Chair Michael Ancram, questioning the direction in which he is taking the party.

Is the Conservative Party still behind their leader's project to modernise the Tories? Mrs Spelman admits: "Clearly there are one or two who are not. That is always the way in politics.

"But certainly the whole of the leadership team, the Shadow Cabinet, is right behind David Cameron, who has understood the importance of reaching out beyond our core support."

Mr Cameron was appealing to younger people who had not voted Conservative before and others who were not traditional Conservative voters, she said.

This year's party conference in Blackpool demonstrates that the Tories have momentum behind them, she insists.

"We have a record number of people at the conference this year - 8,500 delegates. All the exhibition stands were sold early.

"It shows the level of interest in the party as a credible alternative government."

And Mrs Spelman argues that recent opinion polls are no guide to how the public will vote in a General Election.

"I think it is very volatile, because if you look at the most recent by-election results, it was bad news for Labour. What matters more than opinion polls is what people do when they actually go and vote. Last time people did that on a national scale was in the local elections, when they voted overwhelmingly for the Conservative Party."

The Conservative leadership has countered claims that it is scared of an early general election by insisting it would welcome a poll and challenging Mr Brown to stop "dithering" and make a decision.

George Osborne, the Shadow Chancellor, yesterday said the country was "crying out for change" and said that if Mr Brown did not now call an election he would have "bottled it".

It's a view echoed by Mrs Spelman. She said: "If Gordon Brown holds a general election, I think it will focus people's minds on whether they want five more years of Gordon Brown.

"We will remind them that this is the man that took #25 billion out of pension funds, introduced the most chaotic system of tax credits imaginable, and failed to solve the problems in health and education as part of Tony Blair's Government for ten years.

"He is not new, and that contrasts with David Cameron who is new and very clearly represents change."

As the party chair, she has the task of ensuring the Conservatives are prepared for a poll whenever it happens - a task which meant she had to keep working throughout the summer break when many MPs are sunning

themselves overseas. "David Cameron asked me to forgo a summer holiday this year, to get the party machine ready, and I'm very glad I did that."

The Tories have chosen their candidates, with "contingency plans to put candidates in place within 48 hours if needed", she reveals.

And the party's funds are in good shape. The only thing left is to finish drawing up a policy platform - which is what the conference is designed to achieve.

Delegates will spent their four days in Blackpool considering proposals drawn up by six policy reviews, which were published over the summer.

"The question is deciding which of our policies to put in the manifesto," says Mrs Spelman. The Conservatives are set to junk some of the more embarrassing proposals to come out of the policy review process, such as taxing motorists for using supermarket car parks.

Traditional Tory issues such as tax and immigration will get a look in, she says. But these will be only part of an election campaign, and the Conservatives will not change course from the agenda David Cameron has set, with its focus on improving public services and issues such as the environment, she said.

Perhaps dropping a hint about Conservative plans for the election, she adds: "I would imagine health will dominate the General Election campaign." :