Read our daily updates from the Lansons Public Affairs Team at the Conservative Party Conference….
Just Getting By
Things couldn’t really get much worse than last year’s conference debacle, or could they? The omens were not good when an error with the conference app meant some personal details of cabinet ministers were divulged. Boris Johnson has used his high profile and popularity with the membership to try and set the agenda for this conference with a range of media appearances, and indeed the Chancellor Philip Hammond was asked about him this morning on the Today programme, suggesting it has to some extent been successful.
Despite this, the Prime Minister does have some positives coming to Birmingham. A few polls over the weekend showed the Tories remain ahead of Labour, increasing their vote share after Jeremy Corbyn’s successful conference last week. It’s almost as if the public don’t watch the Party Conferences…
She also has a fairly united cabinet, who are determined to help her push the Chequers deal, or some version thereof, through to the final hurdle, despite the pretty definite opposition of the membership who dislike anything that smacks of retained links with Europe.
So what is the object of this week? By and large, it is simply to survive, to get by, look competent, and maybe make a policy announcement or two. Nobody is expecting this to be the moment Theresa May turns her premiership round, but some positivity and hope for the future, with some big ideas about policies wouldn’t go amiss. There certainly wasn’t any evidence of that when the Prime Minister spoke to Andrew Marr yesterday.
And yet, in the crowded hot rooms of the conference, there are flashes of light. The Scottish Conservatives reception last night was huge, with roaring and cheering as Ruth Davidson stepped on to the platform to introduce her deputy Jackson Carlaw and the Chancellor. Here at least there is a person Tories look to with optimism. Many will have been thinking it’s just a shame she’s ruled herself out of contention to be Prime Minister…
What’s On Today
Today in Birmingham, Chancellor Philip Hammond is expected to make a speech outlining the Government’s fiscal planning for Brexit. Sky News has reported this morning that he will use the address to express confidence the UK could survive a “no-deal” Brexit amid increasing concerns the UK could be forced into a “disorderly” exit from the EU. The publication also claimed the speech would focus on the “fiscal capacity” of the UK, ahead of the Government’s Autumn Budget on 29th October, which Hammond announced last week. The Chancellor will also discuss issues around house prices, small business support and low wages before rounding on former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, labelling him as having “no grasp of detail” on Brexit.
The second day of Conservative Party conference will also see a selection of speeches from other figures from the frontbench, including Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, Business Secretary Greg Clark Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey. Clark’s speech comes just days after he told reporters the UK “needs to have a deal”, contradicting the stance of Theresa May on the UK’s ability to survive a “no-deal” scenario.
Meanwhile, Raab’s delivery will proclaim the “limits” of the UK’s ability to compromise with the EU, in a hard-line stance to EU negotiator Michel Barnier and European Commission President Donald Tusk. Furthermore, the Brexit Secretary will reaffirm the UK’s opposition to any eventuality where it is “locked in” to the single market and customs union, as reported by the Evening Standard.
The opening of the Conservative conference yesterday did not go perhaps quite as Theresa May would have liked.
First, on Saturday it emerged that the party’s conference app had an embarrassing security breach, whereby it was possible for anyone to access the personal details of attendees, including MPs, journalists and diplomats, simply by entering their email addresses.
Party Chair Brandon Lewis was grilled about the breach on Ridge on Sunday, and refused to say whether he would resign. Many have pointed out that just last week he boasted about the functionality of the app, which he hoped would help to overhaul the Conservatives’ image and appeal to younger voters.
Brexit also looms over the Prime Minister, though she remained defiant on the Andrew Marr show, stating that: “I do believe in Brexit.” She maintained that her Chequers proposal is not dead and is “the best deal for Britain”, and made a plea for party unity.
The talk of the conference thus far, though, is Boris Johnson’s manoeuvring to undermine Theresa May’s Brexit plan and position himself as her successor.
On Friday he set out his “plan for a better Brexit” in the Telegraph, and yesterday he pushed his message further in the Sunday Times, asserting: “Unlike the Prime Minister, I campaigned for Brexit. Unlike the Prime Minister, I fought for this, I believe in it, I think it’s the right thing for our country and I think that what is happening now is alas not what people were promised in 2016.”
This was very much the hot topic during the Sunday political shows, where Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson and Education Secretary Damian Hinds were both loyal to Theresa May and her Chequers plan during their respective slots. Somewhat surprisingly former Brexit Secretary David Davis took a swipe at Boris by saying that his Brexit proposals made for “good headlines” but “not necessarily good policies”, while less surprisingly International Trade Secretary Liam Fox revealed that he would be happy to serve under a Boris Johnson led Cabinet.
Boris Johnson’s auditorium speech on Tuesday lunchtime, followed by his planned “chuck Chequers” rally later that evening, will be ones to watch.
Meanwhile, away from the headlines, the party made a couple of policy announcements over the weekend:
- Foreign property ownership: Theresa May announced that foreign property buyers will face additional stamp duty of 1% or 3%, with the money raised being spent on tackling rough sleeping
- Cadets: Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson announced a new cyber training programme for cadet
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