The Conservative Conference was a lot more entertaining than usual, thanks to Boris Johnson and May exhibiting humour and finding their contrarian mojos.
The Labour Conference clearly demonstrated the threat the Labour Party posed to the Conservative Party. By skill, stealth and circumstance, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has romanticised the far left. By tapping into the social conscience of the millennials and by berating the banking class of the 2008 financial meltdown, Corbyn snatched the opportunity to trash capitalism and offer a nirvana of state socialism to a disaffected society. One idea proposed by Labour is taking 10% of equity in all but the smallest businesses, putting this into a staff fund that might pay up to £500 in dividends to staff, with the rest going into the state kitty. And Corbyn the pied piper has migrated the millennials and the middle classes towards an illusion of a so-called People’s Vote on the final EU Withdrawal Bill.
The Conservative Conference in Birmingham this week was a lot more entertaining than usual, thanks to Boris Johnson and Theresa May exhibiting humour and finding their contrarian mojos. Conservative Home hosted Johnson at the Novotel, where folks queued from 9am for a 1pm speech. Capacity was supposed to be 800, but 1,500 managed to cram in after cries of “let us in”. Johnson opened with a pun referring to the data breach on the conference app that made available the private telephone numbers of MPs. Johnson showcased how the Labour party was unable to fulfil the home owning aspirations of the millennials. He moved seamlessly into fiscal devolution and how a strong market sector economy can pay for public services, as opposed to Labour’s plans for nationalising utilities and infrastructure; Johnson advocates cutting taxes to stimulate growth and increase yields. He critiqued the UK’s global strategy as his entrée to Brexit negotiations and the Chequers plan, which he said was undemocratic and a recipe to continued acrimony. Johnson referred to the super-Canada FTA put forward last week by Shanker Singham, director of the Institute of Economic Affairs and Jacob Rees-Mogg’s European Research Group. He wrapped up with a dire warning of the consequences of the EU negotiating obduracy.
The following day the Prime Minister was inspiringly introduced by Geoffrey Cox, the Attorney General, who brought the house down with his eloquent case for self and sovereign government. Theresa May boogied her way onto the stage to ABBA’s 1976 song Dancing Queen. This was admired the world over for its unexpected confidence and its great testimony to British self-deprecation, after the media made the most of May’s dance moves during a school visit in South Africa. A joke often warms the audience to the speaker, thus May began with a witticism about gluing up her backdrop, a reference to the fact the letters dropped off last year, and with a timely remembrance of WW1 emphasising the importance of recapturing the spirit of a common purpose, alluding to her hopes of uniting the party behind her leadership. A quick quip about the television series The Bodyguard (a BBC production about terrorism, corruption and sex in the Home Office) introduced the more serious issues of our time, confrontation, extremism and abuse, compromise, unity and free speech. The PM chose to avoid calling the Labour Party by name, instead calling out the Jeremy Corbyn’s party for its anti-Semitic and anti-national security failings and Corbyn’s policy of de-selecting own MPs. To suit the conference theme of “opportunity”, May delivered a patriotic, more centre-grounded and global Britain speech than usual, demonstrating how threatened by the Labour Party the Tory Party feels. May committed to Brexit, but did not mention the Chequers Plan. Ministers and MPs agreed May’s speech was the best yet and this reporter is told the vibe at the Conference was that Chequers is now flexible. Still, many MPs have been reserved in saying they will back the PM as leader if there were another election. What is tenuously holding the party together is “If it is not May it might be Corbyn”.
Perhaps the EUrocrats have digested what’s going on: the EU will want a socialist UK about as much as the Conservative Party wants a socialist UK. On Thursday, following the conferences and apparently out of the blue, Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, announced on Twitter “From the very beginning, the EU offer has been a Canada+++ deal. Much further-reaching on trade, internal security and foreign policy cooperation. This is a true measure of respect. And this offer remains in place.” Johnson has tweeted an enthusiastic response. Negotiation by Twitter: welcome to the 21st century.