This Week in British Politics: 1st – 7th October

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Another busy week of conference season brings the feuds within the Conservative party to their annual conference in Birmingham, at which the Prime Minister’s  speech rivalled by that of the former Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, leaving her preoccupied with watching her back, whilst the smaller parties on the other side of the house do their fair share of posturing too.

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Ever the popular figure (at least from the media’s perspective), Boris Johnson (pictured above) made quite a storm at this year’s Conservative Party Conference. One might suggest that he was attempting to steal the limelight from Theresa May’s own speech. There were reported queues of up to four hours to be able to witness the spectacle; not only members turned up, but many swashbuckling Brexiteers from the Tory backbenches came to support this meek mutiny. Of course, Johnson was delighted by the turnout and proceeded to brag to the crowd, not only about his record as Mayor of London, but also the speed at which he could articulate those statistics – although, as you can imagine this was not without some good old Boris bumbling.

The meat of the speech, which captured people’s attention, was his criticisms of Theresa May (pictured below)– especially her Brexit policy. Johnson laid into Chequers, labelling it as potentially ‘dangerous and unstable, politically and economically’, as well as ‘humiliating’, eccentrically pointing out that it would be in breach of a 14th-century law that dictates that England must not be governed by a foreign court. Nevertheless, he also hit out against Corbyn’s Labour Party, making a passionate case for a conservative approach that is pro-business and for low taxes, with a smattering of populist talking points, such as ridding law enforcement of political correctness, suggesting we should reintroduce measures such as systematic stop and search.

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In contrast, May put up a surprisingly modest defence of capitalism, instead highlighting the limits of Free Markets as well as the benefits, stressing the conservative policies which aim to regulate the economy in the interests of ordinary people. One of the most striking policy unveilings was ending council borrowing cap in an attempt to get more houses built and fix the housing crisis. But an even more headline-worthy announcement was a victory speech for the austerity program that has been such a defining aspect of this decade; May declared austerity over, promising a new post-Brexit economic agenda, with ever-increasing funds for public services, now that the deficit is under control.

This comes in what seems an attempt to position herself as a centrist, in an effort to unite the country through political compromise and extending olive branches to members of the other side of the house, whilst simultaneously decrying their front bench for transforming Labour into a racist party that disrespects the institutions of the nation. Her ‘unionist’ vision includes not merely the union of the four nations, but of all hard-working citizens: ‘not for the few, not for the many, but for everyone’. She particularly stressed the ethos of compromise and unity regarding Brexit, urging co-operation between those who wish to honour the result of the referendum to resist those that wish to betray Brexit.

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Officially joining the ranks of her opponents is the Scottish National Party (pictured above), who have maintained an anti-Brexit stance since the referendum, but have also, ahead of their annual conference, which started this weekend, announced that they would back a ‘People’s Vote’. This will make the SNP the largest parliamentary party to explicitly back a second referendum and with Labour’s stance recently shifting to being open to one too, pressure is mounting on the government, especially as many members of her own party are rallying behind figures such as Boris Johnson and Jacob-Rees Mogg in opposition to Chequers from the other side.

Some relief may be found for the Prime Minister as some members of UKIP become alienated by what they view as a lurch to the far right, with a more openly anti-Islam agenda. One notable figure, Bill Etheridge (pictured below) – an MEP for West Midlands – has defected to the Libertarian Party, a party which only achieved 524 votes across 4 constituencies in the 2017 General Election, yet now have representation in the European Parliament. This news may be a blow to UKIP leader, Gerard Batten, who is hoping the party can capitalise on recent membership gains and garner more mainstream support.

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Another party desiring more mainstream support is the Green Party who, with new co-leaders, Sian Berry and Jonathan Bartley, also had their annual conference this week. They are forwarding a dual strategy of direct action, such as protesting fracking, with their ambitious aim to overtake the Liberal Democrats as the UK’s third party. They made the case that people are now more open to radical ideas, such as their proposals to replace GDP as a measure of economic health with how much leisure time people have achieved with policies such as Universal Basic Income and a four-day week.

 

More articles in This Week in British Politics
  1. The Week in British Politics: 3rd-9th December
  2. This Week in British Politics: 8th-14th October
  3. This Week in British Politics: 17th-23rd September
  4. This Week In British Politics: 8th-15th July
  5. This Week in British Politics: 5 March – 11 March 2018
  6. This Week in British Politics 19-25 February 2018
  7. This Week in British Politics: 1-7 January 2018
  8. This Week in British Politics: 15-21 January 2018
  9. The Week in British Politics: 12 March – 18 March 2018
  10. This Week in British Politics: 2nd – 9th September 2018
  11. This Week in British Politics: 10th – 16th September
  12. This Week in British Politics: 1st – 7th October
  13. This Week in British Politics: 15th-21st October
  14. This Week in British Politics: 26th November-2nd December
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