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Conservative Party Conference- Lansons briefing #3

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Read our daily updates from the Lansons Public Affairs Team at the Conservative Party Conference….

Theresa May

Roundup

She did it. Theresa May has survived the week in Birmingham, swatting away attempts to destabilise her by Boris Johnson and even managing to pull off a fairly intellectually neat end of conference speech.

In fairness it could only have gone up, after last year’s cabinet splits and disastrous speech, and to give her credit the Prime Minister made a joke of her previous performances. Lacking the razzmatazz one might have seen from David Cameron, she provided a steady riposte to Jeremy Corbyn’s appeal to the public. The PM put in a good effort to stand up for capitalism and her party’s approach to helping ordinary people get by. Naturally for a Tory audience, the biggest roars were for her determination to push on with Brexit and execute the will of the people. There’s now clear blue water between the Conservatives and Labour over Brexit, and only time will tell if it results in a long term shift in voting patterns.

Certainly, speaking to business this week there have been a number of comments that the bigger threat comes from some of Labour’s policies rather than Brexit, so a move to the opposition as a result of it still seems unlikely. However Carolyn Fairbairn of the CBI put in a strong case for Chequers and the impact a no deal Brexit might have on the economy. Clearly there’s still a lot of effort coming from big business to provide support to the Prime Minister’s plans, however the membership who turned out in Birmingham didn’t hear it. Instead they were queuing round the corner to hear Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson demand Theresa May ‘chuck Chequers.’ There were no cabinet rifts this year meaning things were more settled, and although the former Foreign Secretary still caused a stir with his appearance the line to take was that he’d ‘peaked’.

Fringes and parties were busier than ever, with a lot of focus on the digital economy, increasing productivity and housing. While the party is trying to focus a bit on domestic policy, everybody knows that the Government will need to spend the majority of the next year getting the country ready to leave the EU, so announcements were fairly light on the ground.

So where will we be at next year’s conference? By that time we will have left the EU and a new relationship will be beginning to form. While there is currently an expectation the Prime Minister will not survive long, there’s definitely an admiration for her dogged determination in the face of in-fighting and the greatest shift in Britain’s foreign policy for a generation. Perhaps that might mean she gets to stay on a bit and, with focus able to return to matters domestic, we’ll see a return to the policies and values Theresa May spoke of on the steps of Downing Street when she first became PM. It will not have gone unnoticed that those words won her wildly high polling numbers and helped her decide to call and election. A week is a long time in politics, but a year is very long indeed…

May’s Conference Speech

Theresa May has just finished her keynote speech closing the Conservative Party Conference. Following last year’s embarrassment where she suffered a sore throat, letters falling off the backdrop and being handed a P45, she faced a lot of pressure to unite the party behind her and prove she is fit to fight on as Prime Minister.

Dancing on to the stage, Theresa May opened her speech apologising if she coughs, as she had been up all night super gluing the backdrop so it did not fall off– mocking last year’s technical disasters that marred her speech.

In a message to the entire UK she said if we come together there is no limit to what can be achieved and that the future is in “our hands”.

She shared her concern at the level of abuse which has been levelled against politicians, stating “people who put themselves forward to serve have become targets”. She called on Conservatives to rise above abuse and make a positive case for their ideology.

Turning on the Labour Party, she said it was they who rejected values that bridged the divide between the two parties. She said what has befallen Labour is a national tragedy and that it was up to the Conservatives to make sure he can never ruin the country.

Moving on to Brexit, she said there had been disagreements in the Party for a long time, but it was her job to do what she feels is in the national interest. Firstly, that is honouring the result of the referendum and secondly, seeking a good security and trading relationship with Europe. In an impassioned plea to all sides of the party she asked them to unite to make sure Brexit actually happens, but she said she will not get a deal at any cost. May sent a clear message to the EU, that the UK will never accept splitting up the UK and staying in EU in all but name.

Having not mentioned Chequers by name, May referred to it as a ‘free trade deal’ to protect businesses and employees as well as protecting the union.

She said if the party does not come together then the country risks a Labour Party who will accept any deal the EU offer. May accused the Labour party of not acting in the national interest, but their own political interest. Unsurprisingly May ruled out a second referendum. Calling it “a politician’s vote, politicians telling people they got it wrong the first time”.

In regards to business, and with a dig at Boris Johnson, she said “you may have heard there is a four-letter word that we Conservatives want to do to you – back businesses”.

May spent a lot of time defending the Conservatives’ economic record, she said Labour’s centre piece policy, making employees shareholders of their companies, is a stealth tax on enterprise saying “ideas that might seem attractive at first glance, but which would hurt the very people they claim to help. Workers wouldn’t become shareholders – and much of the income generated would end up with the government. They dress it up as employee ownership, but it’s a giant stealth tax on enterprise”.

In a strong message to her party, she said Conservatives need to do more than just criticise Labour, but must act. She highlighted her record on the economy saying she had; toughened up corporate governance, changed rules on bonuses, changed how people work in the gig economy, changed employment rules as well as introduced the energy price cap.

Turning to housing, May said that the Conservatives cannot make the case for capitalism if people cannot own capital. She said building more homes is the most important factor to helping people get on the housing ladder. With this she announced that the Government would lift the cap on how much councils can borrow to build new homes.

Concluding her speech she said that national debt is starting to fall for the first time in a generation, but it was not easy and people need to realise that there is light at the end of the tunnel and because of their sacrifices better days lie ahead. She said austerity is over, but framed it as being dependent on a smooth Brexit.

She finished her speech saying that she wants a party “not for the many and not for the few, but for everyone who plays by the rules”.

The new announcements in the speeches are below.

New announcements:

  • New Cancer strategy which will come from new money to NHS
  • Festival of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in 2022 for an entire year
  • Auto compensation for those who have delayed trains
  • A higher rate of stamp duty on people abroad to level the playing field for British buyers – money raised will go to rough sleeping.
  • Scrapping cap on asset housing revenue
  • Freeze fuel duty once again

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