Comment Writer Hugo Rasenberg reflects on the recent Conservative Party Conference that was held in Manchester


Earlier this month, the membership of the Conservative Party put down their knitting sets and arose from the armchair to gather in Manchester for the annual party conference. 

Let’s be honest, things aren’t looking good for the Conservatives: the scrapping of HS2, backlash against the rollback of net-zero climate pledges, a deeply fractured parliamentary party, and a potential electoral onslaught will be keeping Conservatives up at night. But despite the difficult national picture, it didn’t stop the politicians and activists letting their hair down and having a jolly. 

In short, they ushered the political debate out of the arena and sent in the clowns.

For those of you who haven’t attended a Conservative Party conference before – that’ll be most of you – here’s how it works. Every year, all major UK political parties host a conference over 3-4 days to bring the party together. This provides the attendees with an opportunity for networking, policy debate and drinking (strong emphasis on the drinking). 

In essence, it’s a bit like a festival but you get Rishi Sunak instead of Dua Lipa, Jeremy Hunt instead of Lil Baby, and Suella Braverman, not Doja Cat. Senior ministers and politicos spend their time treated like rockstars, surrounded by hordes of activists fighting amongst themselves to get a selfie.

Politicos spend their time treated like rockstars

There are also hundreds of events which take place away from the main-stage, where think-tanks, lobby groups, corporates, and charities seek to influence policy in the nerve-centre of the party.

Alongside the serious discussion, conference also typically turns out your fair share of entertainment, with this year being no exception.

Headlining the show was the newly formed karaoke double act of former Home Secretary, Priti Patel and Nigel Farage. Despite their angelic voices and impressive choreography, I think it’s safe to say that we won’t be seeing them next year on Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage.

Another contender for best act was Bruce Goodwin, who after spotting Steve Bray, attempted to remove him from the Bruges Group fringe-event. The altercation ended in a bit of a scuffle before security removed Bray from the room. Conservative MP for Ashfield, Lee Anderson went on to describe him as ‘Brave Bruce.’

What kind of festival would it be if no one was kicked out? The Conservative Chair of the London Assembly was forcibly removed from the conference after heckling Suella Braverman’s speech, calling it a ‘homophobic rant.’ Mr Boff went on to add that her rhetoric is, ‘making our Conservative Party look transphobic and homophobic.

What kind of festival would it be if no one was kicked out?

Despite the gaffes, Conservatives can walk away from conference with a stronger sense of direction as we head towards election season. In his keynote speech, Sunak outlined the major policies which his government will pursue: limiting local authorities’ ability to attack drivers (using charging schemes and 20mph limits), banning cigarettes for any child currently younger than 14 for life, prohibiting mobile phones in schools, and promoting apprenticeships to tackle ‘mickey-mouse’ degrees.

However, prominent commentators, including Owen Jones have commented that the party is in the midst of a power struggle, with the factions seeking to undermine each other for control of the party. 

There’s a name for when that happens – it’s called politics, and it’s nothing new.

As election season draws closer, if the Conservative Party is to stand a chance of surviving, Sunak will need to continue to bring his party together. Despite the typical conference gaffes, he has minimised serious threats to his leadership and united the party. He can give himself a pat on the back. 

With Labour also taking to the stage in their annual conference, it won’t be long until the public decides whether the Conservatives deserve an encore or an escort out the building.

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