The Conservative Party has decided to press on with their annual party conference in Manchester, despite the ruling of the Supreme Court that Parliament was not prorogued. With over 11,000 delegates converging on the Manchester Central conference centre, the Party is attempting to remain in control of the wider political debate and prioritising their strategy over the immediate developments in Westminster.
The high-level strategy for this week is two-fold:
- Remain on message about Brexit – “Getting Brexit Done” is the slogan being unrelentingly pushed on the attendees, the media, and anyone else who is listening. The Party’s decision-makers have felt emboldened by the responses they have been given from their focus groups to their rhetoric. They want the public to look at the dysfunction in Parliament and conclude that the only way to break the deadlock is to give the Conservative Party a majority in a General Election. There is also the unwavering referencing of the Benn Act (the anti-no deal legislation that compels the Government to seek a three-month extension to Brexit) as the Surrender Bill. Boris Johnson is also being positioned at the very heart of nearly all announcements, similar to a campaign approach in US presidential elections, with as much message discipline as the Party can muster.
- Set out the election campaign messages – Conference kicked off with a big announcement on funding for new hospitals, with further “spending” announcements on high-speed internet, roads and buses. There is a clear direction to seek to help towns and rural areas, as the Party seeks to win in Leave-voting heartlands. When speaking to his party faithful, Johnson is chomping at the bit to get into election mode. There is a noticeable level of excitement to campaign against the policies which were announced at the Labour Party Conference – particularly their plan for a four-day week, the desire to scrap private schools and abolish the schools inspectorate, Ofsted.
On the ground here in Manchester, there is a surprisingly buoyant mood amongst the members when compared to the same conference 12 months ago. The Party has remained unexpectedly unified since the expulsion of the 21 rebels a few weeks ago, with an almost siege mentality developing against the onslaught of defeats in Parliament and in the courts.
But the business attendees who come to the Conference from across the sectors and industries know that the elephant in the room is not being addressed. There is plenty of emphasis on ‘getting Brexit done’ but no clarity about how, or what will happen when it comes to the current deadline on 31 October. So, waiting goes on.