BY BEN EVERITT
It was a record attendance, so Boris said. He’d bounced in to the South East and London reception on Monday and given a rousing speech to the assembled stalwarts.
Defying the petty plotting of Corbyn and Co last week, the Tory conference went ahead. Bouncing Boris toured the receptions, managing to give the same speech with oomph and gusto about a dozen times. It’s a rare skill, to give your words such energy, whilst basically saying the same thing, telling the same joke, landing the same soundbite, over and over. There was a very clear theme to the conference, you probably noticed – we’re going to get Brexit done.
Posted around the conference venue, peppered through ministerial speeches, passionately advocated in the hotel bars. The message is clear. We know people are sick of Brexit. We know they want it done. We’re on it.
But for all the message reinforcement, the trip to Manchester wasn’t just about banging on about Brexit. There’s been three years of that and we haven’t got anywhere. This was about the future. Boris has brought energy, enthusiasm and optimism back to the Conservative Party. The announcements on the ‘people’s priorities’ – on hospitals, schools and police, the cost of living and infrastructure – were tuned to reach beyond the Tory heartlands, beyond the re-energised activists in the conference centre. This was Boris the One Nation Conservative. He’s selling sunshine. And there’s a hell of a market right now.
Clearly we are at a pivot point in politics. The rewards for delivering Brexit have been clearly set out – more police, more funding for schools, an ambitious hospital building programme, an increase in the national living wage, rural broadband, a youth investment fund, action on animal welfare. There really was something for everyone. Looking back, it was a policy-rich conference. The policy bits were easy to miss, though, because most paragraphs in ministerial speeches ended with ‘and that is why we must Get. Brexit. Done.’
That’s the strategy then. As tensions escalate in Westminster, the plotting politicians are placing themselves in the way of the People’s Priorities. Misters Corbyn and Grieve and all the others playing games in parliament are stopping Boris from giving the people what they want. The government is using the dire parliamentary arithmetic to its advantage, turning it on those that wish to stop Brexit and are holding up the business of governing.
It wasn’t all political sunshine and policy substance, either. There were clear signs that Bojo’s letter to Juncker is backed by a break in the Brexiteers’ structural inertia. Steve Baker was in very good spirits at the late-night Freedom and Fizz event. Surrounded by union flags, smiling broadly, he gave strong hints that Boris’ proposal has his support. “If it’s good enough for Steve, I’ll support it” was a familiar phrase from the grassroots. And the DUP, too, are said to be “pleased”. When have the DUP been “pleased” about anything? Exciting times. Clearly, behind the scenes, Number Ten have been getting their act together.
So the conference they tried to stop became a showcase for a brighter future, a platform to reach beyond traditional Tory territory and a pivot point where politicians are either getting Brexit done and moving on, or holding Britain back – blocking the People’s Priorities. We also got the Prime Minister talking about kangaroo testicles. Something for everyone.
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