Conservative Party Conference report from Birmingham 2nd – 5th October 2016
We have a saying in Pott Shrigley from within our Community Cinema that ‘petty coat power ‘prevails. Now for only the second time in history we have a female Prime Minister, the Rt Honourable Theresa May and a cabinet which includes the first ever female Lord Chancellor, Secretary of State for Justice, the Rt Honourable Liz Truss.
The Conference theme was ‘A Country that Works for Everyone’ and it was a bit of an understatement to say a lot had happened since last year. Party Chairman, Rt Hon Patrick Mcloughlin referred to the tens of thousands who had joined our party in the last year, and a greater conference attendance than at any other time.
In this time of devolution the candidate for Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street received an encouraging introduction from Lord Hestletine. During the introduction, Lord Hestletine reflected on the 49 years since he first addressed Conference in Blackpool about Transport Policy, and the hall was empty. On this occasion the hall was full, which goes to show everything comes to those who wait!
Unlike previous years, The Prime Minister addressed Conference on the first day in order to show the country we mean business. She wanted to be in a Britain where we govern, make our own rules and to provide a timing process and a vision for Britain after Brexit. It’s therefore intended to invoke Article 50, no later than the end of March 2017 and without the need for a decision from both Houses of Parliament. Furthermore Mrs May assured us she wouldn’t allow nationalists to divide our United Kingdom, that the authority of EU Law in Britain would end and existing worker’s rights would be guaranteed as long as she is Prime Minister.
Having set the scene, for Global Britain: Making A Success of Brexit we heard from three ministers. The Rt Hon David Davies, Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union commented on how lucky we are to have great women leaders there when we really need them and how we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to forge a better Britain. Secretary of State for International Development, the Rt Hon Priti Patel reported on the aid budget, which was transforming lives, at a rapid rate. Then followed by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the Rt Hon Boris Johnson.
It was evident he had not lost his pension for satire and spoke about his conversation at a UN meeting with the foreign minister of another country, one which has plenty of snow, nuclear missiles, balalaikas, oligarchs, and a leader, who strips to the waist. There was an indication that the difficulties we endured in our relationship were the fault of Britain and of democracy. Following a show of hands from all those in favour of democracy which was as relatively uncontroversial as asking Maria von Trapp whether she was in favour of raindrops on roses, the entire UK side of the room showed that democracy was indeed one of our favourite things. The opposite numbers kept their hands on the table and gave what diplomats call the “hairy eyeball”. We heard the UK ranks in the top three most innovative societies on Earth ahead of USA in 4th place and China in 25th place. Also about the UK’s ban on ivory unlike the EU, which is trying to veto the ivory ban in spite of having a president called Donald Tusk! We shouldn’t forget over the last 200 years this country has directed the invasion of 178 countries that is most of the members of the UN but not a point on which to major. When Britain became involved in the anti-pirate campaign the attacks stopped altogether and since 2012 there have been more Hollywood films about Somali pirates starring Tom Hanks than there have been pirate attacks. Boris concluded with a reference to Churchill who was right when he said that empires of the future will be empires of the mind in expressing our values. Boris believes that Global Britain is a soft power superpower and that we can be immensely proud of what we are achieving.
The sessions open to Party Members only at the end of each afternoon provided an opportunity for questions and answers. There were a variety of hot topics including how to encourage youth membership, how to win back lapsed members, the prospect of training for association officers and the return of green paper discussion documents. The sessions also covered preparation for next year’s elections and why we joined the Conservative Party.
The wider picture will invariably be found from within the fringe meetings. There was certainly no shortage of focus on Brexit, whether it is Foreign Policy, Industrial Strategy, the UK & US Post Brexit, or simply The Road to Brexit. I chose slightly different route and opted for Why is Britain’s broadband broken? The Rt Hon Matthew Hancock, Minister of State for Digital and Culture wanted to provide 10mbps for everyone through fibre via government legislation rather than being reliant on supped up copper.
In this uncertain world in which we live it seemed appropriate to attend the Remembering Srebrenica to learn the lessons from Srebrenica fringe. Ruth Davidson MSP, spoke passionately on how she remembered this in real time. A time to which she could relate when Ryan Giggs played for Manchester United and not at a time in by gone years where world events were viewed in black and white on Pathe News.
I felt compelled to see the Rt Hon Ken Clarke as a former Chancellor of the Exchequer during a lunchtime fringe on Great or Gloomy? Britain’s economy in the next five years. Sadly he didn’t attend and was replaced by John Redwood. He commented on the absurd nightmare forecast in project fear and the unnecessary stimulus from the Bank of England and the Treasury. Overall it was considered we would be more prosperous in five year’s time.
Unfortunately I got my Sopranos confused with my Sonatas and stumbled briefly into the wrong fringe in the Hyatt whilst rushing to attend Brexit and its impact on financial services in the Sonata room. It was refreshing to hear there would be no expected rise in cost for financial services.
Then there was the League Against Cruel Sports Reception in the Concerto room, albeit listed under fringe events. It was fascinating to listen to Sir Randolph Fiennes who said due to the logistics of being in the Antarctic it had been difficult to vote in general elections; consequently he had only ever voted for Mrs Thatcher, Harold Wilson and Tony Blair. If Brexit meant Brexit he questioned if the hunting act meant the hunting act.
Within the morning session on an Economy That Works For Everyone, we heard from three ministers. The Rt Hon Greg Clarke, Seceretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy interviewed the Vice President of Airbus who spoke about the development of the next Rover for Mars, which will be sure to driving on the left! The Rt Hon Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government referred to tackling housing shortages as a moral duty, promoting an increase in brown field development and the arrangement with government sites on which to build homes. It was hoped the 280,000 planning permissions issued in the last twelve months would help towards achieving the target of 1 million new homes by 2020. The Rt Hon Chris Grayling, Secretary of State for Transport promoted HS2 as a means to free up space on motorways and existing lines; how driverless cars will transform lives of the elderly and infirm and encourage an increase in young people to work in the transport industry and help build our future.
The Rt Hon Philip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequer mentioned he had hoped to reach the Treasury sooner. He referred to perhaps the shortest suicide note in political history, the one, which said ‘I’m afraid there is no money’. Although his predecessor didn’t leave him a note, it would have said, ‘wages are rising; the deficit is down and income tax cut for tens of millions of people’. With the 5th largest economy in the world he was convinced we have the skills ingenuity and determination to make a success of Brexit.
The afternoon session began with the Rt Hon Karen Bradley, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. It proved to be an appropriate time to congratulate our most decorated Para Olympian, Sarah Storey, Welsh Hockey team member Helen Richardson & rower Andrew Triggs – Hodge, all of whom were welcomed to the platform. No other country had won so many medals after hosting the Olympic games and she paid thanks to Sir John Major for starting the lottery funding required to aid our success.
The Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom, Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs thought the Labour leadership had dragged on far too long and that they should have approached her for advice! Britain exported £18b billion in food and drink last year and British lamb was recently voted British product of the year last by the French. She assured conference that funding for farmers and fishermen would continue after Brexit.
The Rt Hon Liam Fox, Secretary of State for International Trade reminded conference that Britain became the world’s greatest trading nation from the edge of Europe.
The following morning’s session, Celebrating The Union began with Leader of the Welsh Conservatives in the National Assembly, Andrew RT Davies. He explained he wouldn’t be using his power stance, feet wide apart on this occasion for fear of another hernia. Instead he suggested as Rudyard Kipling once said, ‘keep your head down when those about you are losing theirs’. This seemed like an opportune time to comment that under labour there were parts of North Wales poorer than Bulgaria. Due to an unfortunate Freudian slip, and much to the delight of Conference he concluded by saying that ‘Brexit meant Breakfast’.
Esther Mcvey followed with an interview of Secretaries of States for Wales; Scotland and Northern Ireland, Alun Cairns, David Mundell and James Brokenshire.
The next session, a Society That Works For Everyone commenced with the Rt Hon Michael Fallon, Secretary of State for Defence. Whilst we have the biggest defence budget in Europe and the 5th biggest in the world he was determined to block any prospect of an EU army. The Rt Hon Liz Truss, Secretary of State for Justice announced a £1.3 billion investment to update prisons and the introduction of ex armed officers to aid discipline in prison.
Sir Eric Pickles introduced The Home Secretary, the Rt Hon Amber Rudd as his ‘Chum”. Having sparred with the Foreign Secretary during Brexit , Boris now offers her a lift in his car. Of course it’s protocol for each minister to introduce members of their team and our MP David Rutley serves as PPS together with Victoria Atkins on this team. She reminded conference that those who want to live in the UK must abide by the law.
The afternoon session began with contributions from a couple of young enthusiastic entrepreneurs; Lawrence Brand, CEO of a revolutionary bike business and law student Molly Hyndman – Cunningham suffering from EDS who received a standing ovation. The Rt Hon Damian Green, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions followed announcing that Aviva had agreed to employ older people.
Contributions from Melisa Mead and James Titcombe revealed heart-wrenching stories concerning failings within the NHS. The RT Hon Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Health considered he held the safest job since people weren’t exactly queuing for the position. On a positive note he announced that Ofsted figures of cancer survival in hospitals would be readily available.
There was encouraging news from the Rt Hon Justine Greening, Secretary of State for Education. She introduced Carolyn Fairbairn, Director General of the CBI who promoted a return to careers in engineering.
Of course it wouldn’t be ‘conference’ without the variety of receptions helped along with copious glasses of wine. The late night North West Conference on the first day, attended by the Prime Minister, followed by the Cheshire & Wirral reception on day two, culminating in David Rutley’s gathering of all fourteen of the Macclesfield delegates at the Pitcher and Piano Bar. I seem to remember that the Sea Fare & Sea Shanty reception served a good fish supper whilst being serenaded by The Roaring Trowmen.
The final morning and it was necessary to join the queue extremely early to secure a seat. Chief Whip, Gavin Williams clarified a couple of myths one of which confirmed there was no ‘black book’ for indiscretions only a blue one. A selection of new MPs from varying backgrounds was invited to address conference in order to illustrate the diversity and success within government over recent months.
The Party Chairman extended thanks to all before introducing the youngest woman in the House of Lords, Baroness Natalie Evans. Ruth Davidson, Leader of the Scottish Conservatives followed, reminding conference of the old saying, if you want something asks a man, if you want it done ask a woman.
The Prime Minister, Rt Hon Theresa May, presented her inclusive new vision for Britain, a country where it doesn’t matter where you were born, and all that matters is the talent you have – and how hard you’re prepared to work. She even complimented Boris on having stayed on message for the full four days and referred to Labour as ‘the nasty party”. Her iron authority commanded the hall when she promised with glittering conviction that ‘a change was going to come’.