Conservative Party Conference 2017. Report by Peter Boulton.
This year’s party conference, ‘Building A Country That Works For Everyone’ marked the 150th anniversary of the founding of the National Union of Conservatives & Constitutionalist Associations and it happens to be my 25th conference. I therefore made a concerted effort to arrive on Sunday morning in time for the meeting of the National Conservative Convention at the Midland Hotel. With both Sir Eric Pickles and the Prime Minister in attendance the popularity of the event caused it to be oversubscribed and I with many others failed to gain access. I am however led to believe much of the content can be found in The Parliamentary Review copies of which were circulated by post in advance. Winston Churchill once said, ‘never let a crisis go to waste’, and out of that springs opportunity. Although far from being a crisis this offered the prospect to attend my first fringe meeting, ‘How do the conservatives boost living standards before the next election’, chaired by Lord Willets.
Vicky Ford MP favoured a strong economy with focus on world class infrastructure to fill the productivity gap. Matthew Parris columnist at The Times thought it was probably hopeless and if we couldn’t win when living standards were flat we may as well give up now. In his bleaker moments, he wondered if the nation should have a short time led by an alternative catastrophic government! Ben page MP, Chief Executive of Ipsos MORI confirmed we must give people hope to own their own house, secure a job and to retire comfortably. A key problem stemmed from too many people holding on to multiple properties. Would the cohort effect continue with tribal declining because the conservatives are not giving enough hope? The prospect of a mansion tax would however reduce the number of people holding on to houses when not needed.
Fringe events are often controversial and opinions can differ from those conveyed in the Conference Hall. The Conference Chairman the Rt Hon Sir Patrick Mcloughlin, MP welcomed delegates at the start of the afternoon session outlining our recent achievements. In the mayoral elections, we saw four conservatives elected in some of England’s biggest cities. One that many predicted wasn’t possible was in the West Midlands and now in the second largest city in the country we have Andy Street, a Conservative Mayor. Some seem to forget the fact we did win at the General Election and have a Conservative Prime Minister in Downing Street. We increased our share of the vote for the fifth election in a row and won thirteen seats in Scotland where we only had one. Campaign Managers are being appointed across the country and contributions from the floor are being reintroduced. Who knows it may reveal the next William Hague. We have allowed a basic rate tax payer to retain over £1000 more of their earnings, reduced corporation tax from Labour’s 28% in 2010 to 19% and reduced crime by one third.
The Rt Hon Damian Green, First Secretary of State announced his crusade is to bring all British people the conservative principle of fairness, opportunity, pride in our country and openness to the world. He said we are committed to deliver a million homes by the end of 2020 with half a million more by the end of 2022. Whereas Labour will promise more for health, education, the police, welfare, roads, rail, housing, Christmas presents, birthday presents, free cakes at tea-time, and unicorns on demand. In respect of Brexit Jeremy Corbyn is only in favour of staying in the EU on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays or when there’s an ‘R’ in the month. From Ramsey Macdonald to Gordon Brown there has been an unsullied record of Labour’s failure to create jobs.
The Rt Hon Justine Greening, Secretary of State for Education followed, referring to the introduction in the last year of a national fair funding formula backed by an extra £1.3 billion funding for the core schools budget. 3.4 million business apprenticeships have been created since 2010 and our reforms to technical education will therefore deliver choice for our young people. Because the country needs a skills revolution as we prepare to leave the EU, the minister wants to have an array of skilled young people in place ready for British Businesses. Action is happening right now to freeze student fees and increase the amounts graduates can earn every year from £21,000 to £25,000 before they start paying back their fees. We have to understand negative party politics is a turn off for them and we should take the priorities of a new generation and make them our own.
Next it was the turn of the Rt Hon Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. He reflected on being only 1500 yards away from the MEN Arena, the worst atrocity since the 7/7 bombing. He reminded us we have a long history of facing up to problems in our housing market and finding ways to eradicate them. As far back as 1951 it was Harold Macmillan who generated a massive expansion of council housing and it was Margaret Thatcher who helped 2 million families into home ownership with the right to buy. The answers will be different today, some difficult but together he was confident we can succeed in delivering on them. Right across Britain there were spectacular results in this year’s local elections with 560 seats gained and 11 more local councils. We are the party of hope, building a better more United Kingdom, a party of which we can all be proud.
The session on ‘Strengthening the Union Between all Our Citizens’ provided a platform for the Rt Hon Ruth Davidson, Leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party. She exclaimed how great it was to be back in Manchester or as she called it, The Southern Power House! Having turned things around in one seven-week campaign she watched as Nicola Sturgeon sold out at rock venues, release line of signature clothing, sold foam finger to the faithful so they could point at the sky as she flew over their heads in a helicopter. Just as half a million Scots chose to take their vote away so too can the Corbyn bubble burst but only with hard work to make it so. It’s time this party made it clear we’re not leavers or remainers any more – just Brits. Whilst we press on with more devolution it’s time for a bit more union. After 10 years of SNP Government it’s time for a change and not to Scottish Labour who swap leaders so often that Trump’s Communications officer feels sorry for them. In closing Ruth said there should be jobs and fair pay for everyone who want to work and that now it was time to unite and fight for the union of our nation.
Continuing this session, the Rt Hon James Brokenshire, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland expressed the importance of the Union and that the best days lie ahead and not behind us. Having joined the Common Market in 1973 as one United Kingdom he believed we will leave the European Union in 2019 as one United Kingdom. The RT Hon Andrew R T Davies, Leader of the Conservatives in the Welsh Assembly delivered the final speech of the afternoon. His opening remarks referred to the Cardiff Half Marathon also on the same day as the start of Conference and how he was not made for lycra! Thanks to the Conservatives and the leadership of Theresa May the decades-old complaint about underfunding in Wales is now over. Remarkably, as seen with Labour’s social media activity, a lie gets half way round the world before the truth has a chance to get it’s pants on!
Once clear of the hall it was time to speed over to the Exchange Auditorium to ‘Meet the Chairman’ where Party Members express their views and ideas. These range from forming a rebuttal unit; concentrating on social media; candidates on the ground road testing the manifesto to avoid the car crash from the Westminster bubble; appointing a young person to the board of the National Union whilst realising a rule change would be required; stop blaming CCHQ and encourage Associations to work a lot harder and increase membership: CCHQ to develop a better relationship; regular updating of Vote source with information from the field; how to change the opinion of students on campus that hate the Tories. It was reassuring to note the panel confirmed that student campaign managers had been appointed and although Conservative Future had not been working, there were plans to work more closely with Associations.
Understanding the need to harness the support of today’s youth steered me towards the next fringe meeting, ‘Generation Citizen: engaging the next generation in politics’, hosted by NCS. Tim Lawton, MP from Shoreham didn’t think there was enough known about the National Citizen Service which is the fastest growing youth movement in the UK. A panel of six very young students out of a membership of 400,000 delivered a series of speeches. They were united in their belief of NCS and how it had been a life changing experience. People now listen to what they have to say and they have got to know about politics. They found working to solve local social issues has provided a route to politics and they promoted a forthcoming report, Brexit for Young People. Many of the panel confirmed their MPs attended school award ceremonies without exception and had therefore become their idol. In addition, they had the notion local councillors could involve young people in social action and that politics should be introduced into lessons from an early age.
There was still time before the Northern Reception later in the evening to squeeze in another couple of meetings. While feeling optimistic the prospect the Bright Blue with Woodland Trust, hosting ‘a green and pleasant Land? The countryside after Brexit’ seemed appealing. Although doubtful it was hoped the rapid proliferation of tree disease would be helped by leaving Europe. You have probably noticed there’s somewhat of a theme developing concerning Brexit and the youth of today. Next stop was, ‘what Brexit means to the North. It was enormously encouraging to find a young delegate, Louis Yates from Poynton doing what we Brits do so well, queuing to attend. Our MEP, Jacqueline Foster addressed the gathering and promoted the many attributes of our Northern Power House including references to science, shipping and aircraft. Knowing the MEP fairly well provided the opportunity to introduce Louis after the meeting.
Apart from being the first day of conference it was also the Prime Minister’s birthday. Delegates were in fine sprit at our Northern Reception and ready to dance the night away but not until after Theresa May’s visit and a rousing round of singing Happy Birthday.
Monday morning’s session Building a Strong Economy began with the Rt Hon David Mundell. He wanted to ditch the old jokes about Scotland and Nicola Sturgeon and to recognise how Theresa May had saved Scotland from having another referendum so soon. The SNP on the other hand were all about serving another independent referendum. Scotland had some remarkable qualities, including exporting beer to Argentina, and football to Buenos Aires as far back as the early 1880s. Following the Party Chairman’s announcement yesterday a series of contributions from the floor followed throughout the session. These included references to financial services being the backbone of the economy; supporting the working class; Jeremy Corbyn’s voodoo economies; support of British Businesses, free enterprise and global growth.
The Rt Hon Alun Cairn, Secretary of State for Wales reminded conference we had achieved the highest share of Conservative votes since 1935. Even though Wales is a small country if you were to flatten the mountains it’s bigger than England. When considering a population not much more than Greater Manchester its full of the best castles, singers and beaches. It has been the fastest growing part of the UK since 2010 outside of London and the cancelled tolls have proved to be the best thing for the economy. There were further contributions from the floor including the suggestion to harness entrepreneurial spirit; help workers and develop relationships to look forward to going to work on Monday mornings.
The Rt Hon David Gauke, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, highlighted the fact there were 3 million more jobs than 7 years ago and only a very small minority had been filled by George Osborne! The employment rate is now greater than the US and our unemployment rate is half that of the Eurozone. In respect of the contentious move to Universal Credit, those needing support when first claiming will receive an advance payment within 5 working days and will not have to wait 6 weeks. Once again there were contributions from the floor which included nurturing a fresh positive Conservative vision for the UK; developing a Conservative Party for savers and givers; lifting student repayment threshold and building an economy for everyone; raise productivity to incubate enterprise and build a strong economy; concentrate on the power of language and inject passion; being proud of what we represent and be guardian of the economy.
Ben Houchen, newly elected Mayor of the Tees Valley remarked on the BBC having missed a political earthquake in the North East when he was elected. They were currently hosting the single biggest regeneration project in the country and before introducing the Chancellor, Rt Hon Philip Hammond he hoped the he had a steady hand on the spread sheet and behind the Northern Power House.
Phillip Hammond started by saying what a privilege it was to be in Manchester City and all of us united! William Hague had warned us at the early age of sixteen of Labour’s plans for an irreversible shift of power, allegedly to the people and his powerful arguments resonate even now. The purpose of history is to help shape the future. In 1975 the interest rate had been 26.9% and Corporation Tax at 52%. When the Chancellor visited Cuba as Foreign Secretary there were cows in the fields but no milk in the shops. The state controlling the price of milk on their behalf were presumably willing to overlook the effectiveness of the price control leaving the farmers to choose not to produce any milk. That’s what socialism does to a market. Then there was Venezuela, rich in natural resources, publicly supported by Jeremy Corbyn but unable to feed its people and with an inflation rate of over 1000%. He recalled this being his 34th consecutive Conservative Party Conference which had always been preceded by a Labour Party Conference of which there had been some shockers. But their conference last week had been a resolutely – negative agenda of failed ideas, dredged up from a bygone era. Using the language of the past all over again it was a sort of political version of Jurassic Park. Even Ken Livingstone had once sacked John McDonnell for being too left wing. Substantial achievements shouldn’t be obscured by disappointment especially when a Conservative prime minister returned to Number 10 in 2017 with our biggest share of the vote for 30 years and at 43%, Theresa May won a clearer, stronger mandate in the popular vote in Britain than Angela Merkel in Germany. Income inequality in this country has fallen to its lowest level in over three decades, and it s now a much more completive place to do business. An extra £23 billion is going into high-return schemes such as housing, transport, broadband and R & D that will drive Britainss productivity performance and Industrial Strategy. The Help to Buy Equity Loan achieved a much higher take up than expected helping 130,000 families with a deposit for their own home. That’s why the chancellor announced an extra £10 billion in funding to provide loans in the scheme through to 2021. In closing the morning session, he reminded conference the Conservative Party is the most successful political organisation in history, flexible and adaptable, responding to a changing world. But resolute and unmoving in its principles and values, to see off this threat to our fundamental freedoms and deliver our promise to the next generation.
I decided to continue my search for answers regarding our ageing population by attending the lunchtime fringe on ‘Conservative Britain: over 65’s only’. Lord Willets’ introduction identified this as being one of the most important topics of conference. There had been a major generational divide catching us blindsided and now the chickens were coming home to roost. George Freeman, MP identified that young people were not interested in cheese and wine parties and coffee mornings. There were however now five CPF policy champion to lead around the UK. Intergenerational issues had been the problems at the election with three warring tribes in Britain. We have to show we are interested in the aspirations of the next generation and should hold cultural events beyond the conference. Most of his colleagues were unable to afford to attend the conference. Ben Page, CEO of Ipsos MORI identified the concerns of the young as housing, poverty, the old and immigration. Loyal supporters are dying out. Kate Maltby, Critic & Columnist believed young people were concerned over climate change and it was social suicide on campus if there was a hint of conservative reference. Iain Martin Columnist at The Times believed the young ones had no recollection of events of the 1970’s and 1980’s and therefore we should refrain from banging on about it. He didn’t think the ‘green appeal’ would work and called for a change to the style of conference and listen to the delegates.
The afternoon session hosted by the Rt Hon Greg Clarke, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy opened with a panel of the newly elected mayors from the West of England, Teesside and Cambridge. This was followed by The Rt Hon Karen Bradley, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport who announced there were more data connections than the number of people on the planet. Whilst currently experiencing 93% coverage in Broadband connections this would increase to 95% by 2020, increasing further to 100% due to the Bill which gives it to everyone. Contributions again followed from the floor which included recommendations for on line courses; a comment from East Belfast about Titanic being fine when it left Belfast; make more use of untapped talents and work with school to embrace entrepreneurial spirit; the need to be a party of EU research programmes; promotion of investment in infrastructure.
The Rt Hon Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Rural Affairs assured conference of the government’s commitment to recycling and proof of him being a Conservative and not an ambitious Green Party. The EU law which bind our hands would no longer apply after the next election and the plastic bottle deposit scheme was currently being investigated. The next phase of contributions from the floor promoted the six site Ceramic Enterprise Zone in Ceramic Valley, Stoke on Trent; James Watt for developing the steam engine; to embrace innovation like never before; good industrial strategy; how our visit to the Party Conference in Manchester had boosted the economy by £30 million; northerners being the makers and how 15 million of us on our own would create one of the biggest economies in Europe;
The Rt Hon Chris Grayling, Secretary of State for Transport delivered a good speech. He covered the unfortunate closure of Monarch Airlines and how 110,000 people were being repatriated. Every train in the North was to be refurbished, bran new trains were coming, smart ticketing expected by the end of the year and the advent of HS2 will increase capacity.
The Rt Hon Greg Clarke, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy described Britain as being the jobs capital of the world, but the jobs were not productive enough to support. families. We have to raise earning power to provide prosperity for all and prosperity everywhere. Andy Street, Mayor of West Midlands brought the afternoon session to a close. He believed we had won the digital and ground war. When Theresa May had asked him to put himself forward she urged him to win and to get a good deal on a John Lewis bed for Downing Street! And now the West Midlands is the fastest growing economy in the UK.
‘Campaign 2018’ took place in the Exchange Auditorium for Party Members only and with more elections on the horizon it had a certain appeal. A variety of information emerged comprising, that every single election matters; full time professionals always being available to cover all parts of the UK; too many Associations not buying the marked register to enter on Vote Source; 22% of votes in June were postal votes; to campaign even if there is no election and to produce regular issues of InTouch; Blue Print 2 similarity to Amazon; Ministers to spend more time with volunteers when visiting areas.
Alan Mabbutt, Director General of CCHQ announced the appointment of a salaried Student Campaign Manager co-ordinator for Universities. He agreed more traction was required to combat ‘Momentum’ and to grow our organisation, to rebuild the Party via the Branches and increase the activist base. To date the ‘Momentum’ grass roots campaigning network of over 23,000 members and 150 local groups which evolved out of Jeremy Corbyn’s 2015 election campaign, had marched through Liverpool, the Wirral and was now heading for Cheshire.
The evening events got underway with a fringe meeting in The Midland Hotel, covering ‘Rethinking International Development - can fostering civil society abroad help secure Britain’s International Influence?’ In addition to the Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell, former Secretary of State for International Development it was good to see our near neighbour, Fiona Bruce from Congleton. There was a reference to a Ugandan Minister who said they don’t go straight they feel the heat and not the light! According to the meeting we are a development super power and the USA a civilisation super power. Charitable organisations need to be more transparent and matched funding should be a priority rather than relying on hand outs. In her official capacity as Chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, Fiona fully supported holding government to account via civil societies. Theo Clarke, Director of Conservative Friends of International Development wanted us to speak out and to use the international media.
After a quick glance at my comprehensive spread sheet of carefully selected events it was disappointing to find ‘Future proofing the workforce; valuing and investing in our nurses’ had been cancelled. I was eager to express my opinion over the shortage of nurses in the NHS and how we should revert back to the days when nurses trained on the job to achieve their State Registered qualification as opposed to the need for a University degree and associated debt. The alternative to this setback whilst remaining in medical mode resulted in attending the Royal College of GPs fringe, ‘Who cares?’ – empowering patients in general practice. By 2018 we can expect all patients to access their records via an ‘App’, to book doctor’s appointments and order prescriptions. It’s all about empowering patients and Dr Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of UK Council Royal College of GPs encouraged Social Prescribing to free up the doctor’s time and to make more use of the pharmacists. This will become even more important as the number of people over the age of 85 will increase by 10% over the next 5 years. Overall, we are blessed to have a great NHS.
Remarkably there was still time to squeeze in one last event. Having visited a Kibbutz in Kfar HaNassi in Israel, the capital City of Tel Aviv and toured the Golan Heights I felt admirably qualified to attend the Conservative Friends of Israel Conference Reception. This provided an opportunity to catch up with Mary Robinson our other neighbouring MP from Cheadle. It was certainly a popular event attracting speaker after speaker, and we were addressed by the Rt Hon Sir Erick Pickles, Rt Hon Stephen Crabb, Rt Hon Michael Gove and Mark Regev, Ambassador of Israel and various other dignitaries.
Tuesday mornings session on Fighting Injustices began with contributions from a variety of speakers. Cllr Joy Morrison from Ealing and Acton referred to the new mathematics in which less is bigger and more is smaller. Dr Ben Spencer a psychiatrist from Beckenham spoke about us being the Party of fairness, equality and opportunity and that Conservatives never shy away from challenge. Dr Suzanne Bartington from Oxford East didn’t’ think we had done enough for the next generation. A baby born in Glasgow was likely to live 17 years less than if born in London. Debra Hazeldine told conference how her mother died in Mid Staffs Hospital in the most appalling circumstances and how it had taken 10 years of campaigning for answers. The Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Health responded but first thanked the NHS staff for supporting us after the Manchester Bombing in May. You can hopefully appreciate my delight when he announced the biggest expansion of nurse training in the history of the NHS. He was increasing the number of nurses we train by 25% equating to 5,000 nurse training places every single year and nurses would become registered after a 4-year apprenticeship. He recognized the NHS is nothing without nurses. When NHS land is sold off first refusal will be given to NHS employees benefitting up to 3,000 families. He’s confident EU workers in the health service and care system will be able to stay with the same rights as they have now. Poor care is the most expensive care and the staff aren’t the problem, it’s the leadership. Every time someone gets an infection during a hip operation it can cost up to £100,000 to put right. Unsafe care breaks the bank and with the biggest killer being medical negligence, we should replace the blame culture with a learning culture. We have the best NHS in the world and although Nye Bevan deserves credit for founding the NHS in 1948 it was the Conservative Health Minister Sir Henry Willink in 1944 whose white paper announced the setting up of the NHS. Contributions from the floor identified it is the people and not governments who make great nations; we should help those affected to overcome mental illness; promote the right to buy.
I have to admit I half expected to see Liz Truss take to the rostrum next and then realised the frequency of change had elevated the Rt Hon David Liddington to Lord Chancellor, Secretary of State for Justice. He thanked prison officers for the difficult job they do. The use of drugs and mobile phones within prisons is no cottage industry, it amounts to serious organized crime. This is why he announced the start of additional intelligence led counter drone operations to disrupt drones as they enter prison air space and trace them back to the criminals involved. There is also news of a £64 million to entrench reform of youth custody. The comments from one prisoner who said ‘a hope and purpose in life is required’ are being recognized in the current reforms.
Over the years we have welcomed a variety of guest speakers from outside the Party, many of whom have been inspirational and this year was no exception. The British Adventurer and Chief Scout, Bear Grylls who follows in the footsteps of Baden Powell introduced two young scouts to the platform. The organisation is 40 million strong and exists in over 200 countries, and he is finding it difficult to keep up with the demand. This is probably why as Chief Scout he had been asked to seek government recourses and thought a figure of £50 million would be the best money ever spent. He encouraged us to never ever give up and warned us if we ignore young people we perish.
The Rt Hon Amber Rudd, Secretary of State for the Home Department reflected on this year’s atrocities. Five plots had got through but seven had been stopped. Viewing terrorist content on line would now result in up to 15 years in prison. She urged the like of Face Book and Twitter to face their moral obligation; referred to a spider network to remove child pornography; prevention of the sale of acid to under 18 year olds and a restriction on the sale of sulfuric acid (h2s04). She appreciated every vote counts having regained her seat with only a margin of 346 votes and was glad Dianne Abbot was not doing the sums that night! Her personal hate had been the awkwardness of letter boxes located at the bottom of doors.
It’s no secret to disclose a fair amount of alcohol is consumed during conference week,’ not by the few but the many’. I felt drawn therefore to the lunchtime fringe on Alcohol policy – how much is too much? Hosted by Perno Ricard who employ 2000 people in the UK they are one of the biggest contributors to the UK balance of trade. Surprisingly, people are drinking one fifth less than 10 years ago. This is probably owing to 80% of the cost a bottle of whisky being taken in tax. Lord Ian Duncan pointed out the amount of tax applied was more than required to overcome the problems caused by alcohol. Apparently, India holds the the largest number of whisky drinkers in the world but not Scotch whisky as it’s too highly taxed. Bryan Davies MP, a director of Drinker’s Voice launched 3 weeks ago said normal men and women who drink reasonably in moderation have a better lifestyle than those who don’t. This approach also reduces heart disease.
After this reassuring news, it was back to the hall for the afternoon session. Ashley Fox MEP, Leader of the Conservatives in the European Parliament was determined we should see the best Brexit deal for Britain. He likened the negotiations to the start of a rugby match, the bulging eyes, stomping of feet before things settled down. He remarked that capitalism works for the many not the few.
The Rt Hon Liam Fox Secretary of State for International Trade announced it was time for optimism. He found it annoying when any piece of good news is prefaced with the phrase, ‘despite – Brexit’. The horror of what a Labour alternative might look like emerged at their conference in the form of economic incompetence, financial incontinence and self-congratulatory nonsense. When people ask him if he’s a glass half full or empty man he just tells them he’s Scottish and the glass isn’t big enough! His example of free trade in action is getting cut-price food from Lidl and Aldi. He urged us to stop the negative undermining, self-defeating pessimism that’s too prevalent in certain quarters and to be bold, brave and rise to the global challenges together.
Tuesday’s content was certainly more appealing. Within the headline, Securing the best Brexit deal for Britain, the Rt Hon David Davies Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union said he had been told to get a good deal; they said it can’t be that difficult and that was just the cabinet! Apparently, we have the best diplomats and put them to the test by sending them to work for the foreign Secretary. Whilst being happy to work with the Labour Party in the national interest, putting differences aside for the good of the country, they’re playing a different game and published 11 separate Brexit plans. To rephrase Tolstoy, each unhappy in its own unique way. It’s as though Labour has a new slogan, ‘Labour…government without the hard bits. Europe symbolises democracy, liberty, modernity and the rule of law, whereas our island follows a different path. We have been a liberal democracy for over a century before joining the common market. We spend one and a half times as much on defence as the European average but still send troops to European borders in Estonia and Poland. That’s called being a good European. The lurid newspaper accounts of negotiations with predictions of breakdown and crisis although insulting and offensive, the Minister regards them as a compliment.
Under the headline Promoting Global Britain Syed Kamall MEP, Co-Chairman of the European Conservatives and Reformists said what Manchester does today, the rest of the world does tomorrow and we can make Britain the silicone island of this side of the Atlantic.
The Rt Hon Priti Patel, Secretary of State for International Development told conference she was taking back control of spending and decision making, plus opening up the aid budget to the Best of British charities across the country to shape a better world.
The Rt Hon Sir Michael Fallon, Secretary of State for Defence declared the army have trained 60,000 Iraqi forces in the last 3 years. Three million people have been freed from the murderous rule of Dahesh. Today armed forces are on operations in more than 25 countries and leading Nato. In response to the most powerful hurricane ever to hit the Caribbean and within one week we had deployed 600 service personnel, 3 helicopters and one Foreign Secretary! Our 2 new aircraft carriers are the pride of our nation and there will be fighter planes on them. Already there are 12 - F35 jets with 120 pilots and ground crew being trained in the USA. We have the 5th biggest defence budget in the world and investing £18 billions a year (£350 million per week) and renewing our nuclear deterrent, building 4 Dreadnought class submarines. We should be aware and be prepared as both Manchester and London are closer to Pyongyang than Los Angeles. 30 new cadet units have been announced for state schools. The Iraq Historic Allegations Tribunal has been shut down and Sir Michael is working with James Brokenshire to ensure investigations into the Troubles focus on the terrorists and not those who protected our people.
According to others the advent of the Rt Hon Boris Johnson, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs raised the mood of the day and made the Tory message sing. In addressing conference, he said that nothing and no one could bow the in dominatable spirit of the people of Manchester, which in recent years had reinvented itself as the great thrumming engine of the northern powerhouse. With its vital potential to generate jobs, and finance, an academia in journalism and the arts and that’s just the ones held by George Osborne! Every week he picks up British – Edited international glossy covered elegantly written, surprisingly unread in which these publications found new reasons to be less cheerful about the country. Everyday a pink distinguished newspaper manages to make Eeyore look possibly exuberant and across the world the impression is being given that this country is not up to it. Jeremy Corbyn, the Nato bashing, Trident scrapping, would be abolisher of the British army and whose response to the grisly events in Venezuela is to side with the regime simply because they’re fellow lefties, still admires Bolivarian revolutionary socialism. Boris thinks he’s ‘Caracas’! When talking about the 1970s we imagine people instantly understand about power cuts, the 3-day week, union bosses back in Downing Street and state-made British rail sandwiches. Unfortunately, going back to the 1970s sounds to too many people like a massive joint revival concert led by David Bowie, Led Zep and the Rolling Stones. The Shadow Leader and Shadow Chancellor are seriously proposing to place the British people back in bondage. Corbyn wants a Britain where everyone works for the government. This battle of ideas is not lost in the memories of the 1970s it’s back from the grave. Its zombie fingers straining for the levers of power. Boris had recently seen British troops training the Nigerian forces to defeat the numbskulls of boko haram around Maiduguri where British doctors were tending the maimed victims of terror. As their helicopter swooped over the burned and deserted villages they said there was a risk of pot shots from behind and he said it was an occupational hazard in his line of work. He didn’t think everyone automatically loves us or that they follow our sense of humour, but there is a huge desire for us to engage with the world more empathetically than ever before. London today is storming ahead even if the new Mayor isn’t a patch on the last guy who seems to spend time trying rather ineffectually to ban things. Britain has been a gigantic cyclotron of talent and whereas the global capital of innovation exports more TV programmes than any other country in Europe - 5 times more than the French. Labour’s first instinct on hearing we lead the world in some branches of Al and cybernetics was to Tax robots and make them join the union. Did Manchester become great by taxing the Spinning Jenny? We’re not the lion, that’s the role played by the people of this country. It’s up to us now in the traditional non-threatening general and self-deprecating way of the British to let that lion roar.
The Exchange Auditorium set the scene for ‘A Party That Works For Everyone’ for Party Members Only. The CPF (Conservative Policy Forum) has 3,500 members and now helps to shape the manifesto as a key role. There was a need for more women Members of Parliament and therefore necessary to promote interest. LGBT people should be encouraged to attend events since they are the voters and Westminster Parliament is the gayest in the world.
Unfortunately, I had to cut the last session short in time to join David Rutley and our other ten Macclesfield delegates for drinks in the Octagon Lounge of the Midland Hotel. David’s hospitality at this occasion is gratefully received and provides an opportunity to take time out to meet up during such a busy few days.
Timing of our gathering had clearly been optimum since the majority were unable to stay for the remainder of the evening which was still young. A quick glance at the trusty spread sheet directed me to the tail end of a speech by Rt Hon Nick Gibb, Minister of State for Schools: “Through Testing Times: a review of the educational reform project and its future. Due to the presentation of extensive facts, he was complimented for delivering one of the best speeches from a minister. Another look at the evening’s programme of events drew me back to the Midland Hotel. The invitation to British Tamil Conservative Annual Reception for an evening of good food, drink, good company and great speakers certainly looked appealing. The occasion was marked with visits from Sir Patrick Mcloughlin, Sajid Javid, Chris Grayling, and Theresa Villiers all of whom I managed to meet whilst accompanied by David Rutley’s case worker, Jackie Pattison. Interestingly, one of David’s responsibilities as a Whip that evening was to patrol the bar to monitor the consumption of alcohol in certain quarters.
Being the last evening of conference the receptions continued until late into the night. The TRG President’s Midnight Reception with their President the Rt Hon Ken Clarke had a certain attraction, however it remained just a ‘bridge too far’. As a suitable alternative finale’ to the evening we called in on the Westminster Italian Conservative’ Gala Reception. Once again, I felt suitably qualified having once visited Sorrento, Pompeii and home of erstwhile Rochdale singing idol of ‘our Gracie’ on the Island of Capri. The Italian Ambassador recounted a humorous and slightly embarrassing anecdote when he met his soon to be Italian wife. Believing he was asking for Jam which of course is ‘marmellata’, he asked for ‘preservativi’ in error and got condoms!
Like others and as a true Brit I have become skilled in the national art of queuing. Wednesday morning was no exception. As the queue snaked its way around the trade stands we waited patiently in good spirit for the hall to open. The Party Chairman reflected on how good it was to see the return of speakers from the hall and being richer for the contributions from the floor. The Rt Hon Gavin Williamson, Chief Whip touched on life in politics which involved climbing the greasy pole only to be stabbed in the back, or sometimes in the front. Whatever happened we couldn’t allow Vince Cable into Number 10. He referred to the need to bring a new generation to the Party and spoke briefly about the Whip’s ‘carrot and stick’ approach where he preferred to use a sharpened carrot! The final round of contributions from the floor included, understanding if you don’t tell people what you’re doing it’s assume d you’re doing nothing; knowing there’s no such thing as a good area and the need to reach out for votes; promoting healthy ‘soil’ and assuming Labour hadn’t any in their areas; seeing how to make things better when they go wrong and appreciating there is no limit to what a young boy or girl can achieve.
The next and final speaker for whom we had queued to gain a seat was no less than the Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Theresa May. The text of the speech was good, the delivery was electrifying and the Party’s affectionate support could not have been more staunch. But as she referred to the cowardly attack on the Manchester Arena her voice sank to a whisper fading like a radio whose batteries have expired. Even though we had achieved the highest vote share in 34 years she accepted the election had been too presidential and offered a heartfelt apology. She didn’t mind being called the ice maiden though perhaps George Osborne had taken the analogy a little far. The British Dream inspired her and she wanted to let us know her grandmother was a domestic servant who worked hard and made sacrifices for a better future for her family. That servant, that lady’s maid among her grandchildren boasts of three professors and a prime minister. Seven years ago, the challenge was to repair the damage of Labour’s great recession and we did. The deficit is down, our spending under control and our economy growing again. We didn’t limit ourselves to that ambition and have achieved much more.
Income tax cut for over 30 million people; 4 million taken out of paying it at all; employment at a record high; unemployment at a historic low; inequality at its lowest in 30 years; more women in work than ever before; 11,000 more doctors in the NHS; over 11,000 more nurses on our hospital wards; free child care for 3 and 4 year olds doubled; 1.8 million more children in good or outstanding schools; 3 million more apprenticeships; crime down by more than one third; more young people from disadvantaged backgrounds going to university than at any time in the history of this country; Britain leading the world in tackling climate change; eradicating global poverty and countering terrorism where ever it rears its head; same sex marriage on the statute books; add a national living wage – giving a pay rise to the lowest earners. This is the good the Conservative Government can do and we should never let anyone forget. Change as Disraeli taught us is constant and inevitable and we must bend it to our will. How far you go in life should depend on you and your hard work. Theresa May is in politics to make a difference, to change times for the better, to hand over to the next generation a country that’s strong, fairer, more prosperous and to renew the British Dream for a new generation again.
Chamberlain did bequeath one quotation which seems eerily prescient today – In politics, there is no use looking beyond the next fortnight!