Last week it was the turn of the Liberal Democrats, this week the Conservative Party held their – far more publicised – party conference in Manchester. It was Rishi Sunak’s first as Prime Minister and party leader, and many think that it may also have been his last. The Conservative conference is far less democratic than that of the Lib Dems, and more attention is placed on the fringe speakers who inevitably pop up to cause trouble for the leadership. In years gone by, that role has been played by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, although this year it may have been Liz Truss, whose speech was attended by none other than Nigel Farage. A party member also got her to sign a copy of last year’s disastrous mini-budget, whoever said Tories are nothing like the rest of the country?
The Tories went into this conference expecting it to be the last before they lose the next election, so there was a sort of shadow leadership conference going ahead. That and a whole lot of culture wars being preyed upon leading to not only the PM but also his Home Secretary Suella Baverman sharing some troubling anti-trans views. Baverman is no stranger to sharing her views at conference, as last year when she was Truss’ Home Secretary she said that it was her ‘dream’ to see a flight taking migrants to Rwanda. Another thing that came out of the conference was Sunak’s announcement that he was cancelling HS2, perhaps a less than wise move at a conference held in Manchester, where the project was due to end. That was not the only difficulty that the Tories had with trains, as train strikes no doubt made travel to and from the conference more difficult. That is, of course, presuming that party members do not have access to Sunak’s private jet, or that they did not, like chancellor Jermey Hunt, chose to fly.
Sunak and Baverman were not the only two Conservative’s with speeches that will not fly with some of the public. Transport secretary, Mark Harper took to the stage at conference to endorse a conspiracy theory that, until now, has been limited to far-right internet trolls. He attacked the idea of 15-minute cities, an innocuous idea that we should all be a 15-minute walk or bike ride from essential services; but according to Harper, local councils will instead dictate “how often you go to the shops”, “ration who uses the roads”, and then enforce it with CCTV surveillance. His ministerial colleague, Andrew Bowie then defended this, but surely they must know that this is a dangerous concept to give credence to by even mentioning?
The turn to the right is usually one that the Conservatives make after they have lost an election, not before, but perhaps the Tories are hoping to attract the British right wing to them rather than let them drift to Nigel Farage’s Reform UK party (no longer UKIP, no longer the Brexit party). Farage himself gained a rock-star reception at the conference, which he attended as a GB News journalist, although that did not stop him being held close by Tory MPs. Sunak himself has not denied that in the future Farage could rejoin the Conservative fold; Farage certainly would consider it if Braverman takes the crown post-election saying that “at least I’d believe in some of the polices.”
So what else came out of Tory conference? Sunak’s speech yesterday finished the conference, and in it, the richest Prime Minister the UK has ever had called the Conservatives “the party of the grocer’s daughter and the pharmacist’s son”. He also announced plans for a British standard qualification, which we are luckily too old to be affected by, where students must study maths and English to 18 as part of the 5 subjects that will replace A and T levels. Another announcement will not affect us is a gradual ban on smoking where the minimum age to buy tobacco will be raised so some will never be able to buy it. Announced as a benefit to the NHS it probably will only have an impact far into the future, though Sunak has kindly allowed MPs to have a free vote on it. There was the expected attack on Labour and a foray into the culture wars, but all in all this was meant to be an inspiring pre-election address. It dressed up a cancellation of infrastructure projects as a new start and hypothetical changes to schooling and smoking as revolutions.
So the Tory party is readying itself for an election, next year it’ll be up to you if you think they deserve more time in power, and thus deserve a vote.