Greetings from a wet and windy Manchester and the Conservative Conference. The vibe the organisers are going for is “business as usual” and, on the face of it, it is working. After last year’s virtual conference, the Tory faithful have gathered in person to pledge allegiance to the Prime Minister. Their ranks have been swelled by the caravan of journalists, campaign organisations, businesses, and public affairs consultants (us among them) who decamped from Brighton last week.
So far, so good. The organisers will be pleased.
But, I have to say, having attended more party conferences than I care to remember, the atmosphere is distinctly flat. While still grateful that they are in power, it feels like that is no longer enough for the membership which has begun to notice that their party of low taxation has begun to increase taxes, that there are shortages of fuel and food, and energy prices are soaring. They have even noticed that none of the speeches from the main (much smaller) hall have addressed any of these concerns and they are showing signs of tetchiness.
Word on the street – or rather the main conference bar – is that Johnson’s team have forbidden Cabinet ministers from making major policy announcements insisting instead that they stick to iterations of the theme of levelling up, creating a degree of tetchiness among some of the ministers I was able to have a quiet word with.
This level of stage management has created high expectations for Boris Johnson. When he speaks tomorrow, which the bar rumours suggest is going to be a Trump-style in the round performance, he will need to do more than give a rallying cry. He will certainly need to do better than his performance on this morning’s Today programme.