Breaking with tradition, Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May addressed the Conservative Conference on the first day about how Britain was going to leave the EU, the process for triggering Article Fifty before the end of March 2017 and her global vision for Britain after Brexit. May was emphatic that “this is going to be a deal that works for Britain”.
Since the 2000s and the development of social media, the Conference is no longer the only opportunity for party members to connect with each other and the administration. It is no longer policy formulating, it is very much about networking, being seen in advantageous places and selfies. Popular receptions are hosted by the Conservative Friends of Israel, Greece, Turkey, Cyprus and India; curiously, even an opposition party. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the largest unionist political party in Northern Ireland founded by Ian Paisley, the former loyalist politician and Protestant religious leader, generously hosted a well-attended champagne party at lunchtime. Some of the branded Fringe Tents smelled like pubs or wine bars after 9pm as the raucous political chatter extends well into the early mornings.
The central themes at the new venue in Birmingham were 360 degrees of Brexit, Building an Inclusive United Britain for Everyone: education/ apprenticeships/ jobs/ housing for everyone and gender equality as defined by sex, ethnicity or sexual preference.
The David Cameron camp, notably George Osborne and Michael Gove, were noticeably missing, indicating the Tory’s are perhaps not quite yet a unified party.
During the conference, Sir Michael Fallon, Secretary of State for Defence, scotched plans to create a Sikh Regiment despite UK Army chiefs and some Conservatives favouring the proposal. Fallon said: “I want more women, more from black and Asian communities…What I’m wary of is any kind of segregation that would set up particular units that are for one religion and another religion. I’m a little wary of that.”
May closed the conference with the traditional Leader’s speech and her approach for a new Centre Ground built on the values of fairness and opportunity; she joked to applause: “Can Boris Johnson stay on message for a full four days? Just about”. May then thanked David Cameron for the first majority Conservative Government in almost 25 years. Some zeitgeist, almost Trump-like sentiments escaped when she talked about people in positions of power behaving as though they have more in common with international elites than with the people down the road. May accused the Labour Party of being not just divided, but divisive. She pointed the term “The Nasty Party” at Labour, a term that May herself coined in 2002, when criticising her own party for its lack of concern for the poor and being anti-homosexual/ anti-minorities. Humanitarian aid, cracking down on modern slavery and ratifying the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, reforms for worker’s rights and punishing tax dodgers are high on the May priority list, for sure Britain can expect economic and social reform before the next election.
Marine Le Pen, President of the French National Front, immediately tweeted her congratulations to the UK Prime Minister about May’sassessment of “if you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere”. May came across as a C21st Boudica leading the charge for the poor, weak and oppressed against the occupying forces of the greedy, illiberal, privileged and corrupt.