From the 30th September- 3rd October the annual Conservative party conference (CPC) was underway in Birmingham, with the focus for this year’s conference being ‘opportunity’. The Conservative party have had a tough year since the last conference in Manchester, and the conference this year was no escape from difficulty, heavily overshadowed by two looming figures: Boris and Brexit.
With Brexit negotiations entering a crucial period, media coverage of the conference naturally focused on the heightened divisions across the Conservatives and their party members, especially in regards to Chequers. With little to no mention of Brexit, tensions rose over the first few days, and with an empty hall and packed fringe events, it became evident that party members were more focused on debating and discussing policy rather than listen to ministers give potential leadership bids in front of the cameras. These turbulent tensions came to a head on Tuesday with the arrival of Boris Johnson. Johnson delivered a potentially damaging speech calling on the government to ‘Chuck Chequers’, which was met with a sumptuous round of applause. Johnson also called for the party to back Theresa May, however, the Theresa May he mentions is not the Chequers Theresa May, but the Lancaster house, ‘bloody difficult woman’ Theresa May and for Brexiteers, there is a clear difference between the two.
All seemed against Theresa May, as she danced her way onto the stage on the final day of the party conference to deliver a speech that would ultimately seek to bring the party behind her. Opening with a joke about last years conference speech disaster she embarked on a career-saving performance. She covered the amazing policy the Conservative party offer for everyone, she continued outlining that “Our best days lie ahead”.
Calling out and condemning the horrendous abuse those in parliament receive far too often, touching upon recent attacks towards Jacob Rees Mogg’s children and threats and abuse directed towards Dianne Abbott, announcing new initiatives, including plans to charge foreign buyers a stamp duty surcharge, with the proceeds, used to tackle homelessness, and aims to ban restaurants from taking a cut of staff tips, her speech was undoubtedly one of her best performances.
Nevertheless, for a party so consumed by Brexit, there was little to no mention of the issue till around 20 minutes into the speech, and for the hard Brexiteers of the party the Prime Minister gave nothing away about her plans to scrap chequers. This left some feeling frustrated, with only a limited amount of time it is crucial that the U.K get the best deal possible, however, the Prime Minister’s words were strong, “Leadership is doing what you believe to be right and having the courage and determination to see it through. That is the approach I have taken on Brexit”.
To those outside the party her speech may have had little impact, but to those in the hall and watching around the U.K. it made many regain confidence in the Prime Minister, with one member, chuck chequers lanyard around his neck telling me that ‘Theresa May could be the best Prime Minister ever’ and ‘She’s done herself a favour with that speech’.
Away from the media and inside the conference bubble new movements were clear within the Conservative party this year, and a strong re-making of the party image with heavy emphasis on the parties achievements with social mobility and the promotion of gender equality in politics. This was most notable in Party Chairman Brandon Lewis’ opening speech, stating that “We can be proud of our record” and then referring to the election of two female Prime Ministers, being the first party to appoint the first female Muslim into cabinet and appointing the first female Lord Chancellor, and the parties success on policy for LGBTQ+ rights and preventing discrimination.
He also continued to add that there was a record level of young people at the party conference. Attending the CPC for the first time as a young person, I was amazed to see so many other young faces. We were made to feel welcome and important with a youth zone, filled with companies, organisations and panel discussions to provide me with the best opportunity and to get the most out of conference. The Conservative party challenged the idea that young people belong to the Labour party and, as Liz Truss put it, are “a bunch of Corbynistas”.