BY BEN EVERITT
Tonic water is being stockpiled in Deansgate. Gin, too. And beer, for that matter. The M6 is braced for the rumble of Discoveries as the Tory herd makes its biennial migration to the watering holes of Manchester.
Always eventful, the Manchester conference is a bear pit for Tory activists. MPs, staffers, stalwarts and all, must each enter the grand security of the Midland Hotel by walking a gauntlet of snarling, spitting, swearing protesters and provocateurs.
The spite and vitriol hurled outside at anybody who dares enter creates a closeness, a camaraderie, for those on the inside. In Manchester, factions within the Tory Party matter less. If you’ve made it in, you’ve been reminded of who we are united against. We’re all made of stern stuff. We’re all, ultimately, on the same side.
Which makes the circumstances around this year’s conference even more exciting. The choppy path to a Halloween Brexit is producing quite the body count. And the spectre of an election haunts the Tory grassroots probably more than the national strategists. Delivery networks are being woken, chequebooks opened. We’re ready is the solid, stoic message from associations. We’ll help you get ready should be the reassuring message from the centre.
So, beyond the gin inside and the din outside, what can we expect from #CPC2019? Association officers, agents, councillors and campaigners will be briefed on the latest campaign toolkit; on leaflet templates, timetables, social media guides. Policy formulation this year is likely be minimal. Headlines most probably geared around the Johnson government’s clear priorities: fairer funding for schools, making sure the public can see the extra investment in the NHS, 20,000 new police on the streets. And that other thing.
There’ll be set pieces, big announcements to grab headlines and set narratives. And many will remember the last set piece in Manchester was when the set fell to pieces. Expect BoJo to shine, it’s his kind of setting – a structured chaos. He’ll be in his element. He’s brought energy, enthusiasm and an enigmatic zip to the party. There’s a bounce in the step of canvassers and deliverers again. Eyes too will be on The Saj. He’s a well-respected player who’s due a big Test Match innings. The pressure is on. Can steady Sajid provide a reassuring counterpoint to bouncing Boris? It’ll be an important part of the framing for the top team.
And then there’s the controversy. What will it be this year? Who will it be? Will there be a gaffe or two? No doubt. Privately, Tory organisers will be wishing for the calmer days when (then) Welsh Conservative leader Andrew Davies confidently predicted that the party would make a success of Breakfast / Brexit.
The beer will flow until the early hours in the Midland bar. The hardy contingent and the hardly coherent will drink through to the mornings. Breakfast means breakfast in Manchester, and the revitalised Conservatives will no-doubt make the very most of it.
Ben Everitt represents Great Brickhill and Newton Longville ward on Aylesbury Vale District Council. He works in London and Milton Keynes doing “strategy stuff” in the finance sector. Ben’s Twitter handle is @Ben_Everitt