Every party conference has its own main theme, or a number of dominant themes. In recent history, seemingly every event last year had the then Housing Minister invited, and I spent 4 days bumping into the very person my friend Phil was trying to get to sign his copy of the book he wrote, and every time I did Phil wasn’t there. Housing aside, nobody expected a snap election: Brexit dominated the rest of the agenda, and we all thought we were going to do what Conservatives do best: just bloody get on with the job.
The year before then, we had just won an election almost nobody believed we could win, so we had all sorts of talks on all sorts of hard policy topics: we had a mandate to just do what we Conservatives do best, just bloody get on with the job. In fact, I believe the ratio of Centre for Social Justice to rest of the think tanks for number of events has never been as tilted towards CSJ as 2015.
The agenda for 2017 seems, to me, by far the most all over the place in terms of diversity, but if you dig deep enough there are some overarching trends.
We are a diverse party
I thought I’d start with the positives. Every year, the number of receptions linked to a Friends group increases. More and more grassroots from different countries get involved and start a group, and more and more people join the existing ones. Highlights: the Conservative Friends of Cyprus celebrate their 25th anniversary. Their reception is at 5.45pm on Sunday 1st of October at the Tea Room in the Midland Hotel. (Also come say hi at the Italian Gala on the 3rd at 9.30pm, or at our stall)
The youth are back in full force
The stereotype is that all young people think Corbyn is god, and you could be justified in thinking the Conservatives don’t care about young people given the awkward situation that followed the Battlebus scandal in 2015. However, we haven’t been sitting idle. and there is a programme of events driven by our youth organisations (including the Conservative Young Women, youth wing of the Conservative Women Organisation, of which I just about qualify as member) in the Youth Zone (which, by the way, was always there) and a number of other fringe events dedicated to us. Highlights: Being a Young Councillor, Tuesday the 3rd at 7.30pm, Manchester Central Exchange 6-7.
Brexit is still a big issue but not the biggest issue
A number of events look at Brexit and its impact on different interest groups is still being looked at, but by number of events on a topic we also have again housing as a big issue, social care, and social justice and related topics. The lesson of the General Election was learnt: people care about other things than just Brexit. In fact, it seems that they care about things more with Brexit looming, because taking back control means the people in Westminster will be accountable for what happens here and they are the agents of change, from the team at no10 to the lowest level of who sits in Town Hall. Highlights: How can the Conservatives empower the UK’s cities post Brexit?, Monday 2nd of October, 9am, Manchester Central, Central 7.
We’re the party of business, but also the party of workers
The work of the Tory Workers has come back to the forefront thanks to the work of a tirelessly passionate team who see their Parliamentary spokesperson in Robert Halfon, whose personal story is an inspiring testimony to what grit and determination can achieve even when you are disabled. However, this isn’t the only evidence that the stereotype of the party of big business and cronyism is false: so much in the agenda is geared towards SMEs, the gig economy and most importantly to me, the role of social enterprises. Highlights: Can social enterprise deliver an economy that works for all? Sunday 1st of October, 9.30pm, Manchester Central Exchange 8. You can also hear Robert Halfon in conversation on the future of work Monday October 2nd, 5.45pm, Manchester Central, Exchange 4-5.
One Nation is back (if it ever went away…)
The time of rivalries in the 90s is long forgotten, and we are now all more than happy to work together to achieve the best possible outcome for the country, which is a good Conservative government. You can have bad ones (there, I said it), and many could still think it’s the least bad option compared to any Labour governments, but why would you want the least bad option when you can be a great thing? Whether or not the Tory Reform Group has arranged the event, the overarching theme of what it means to be a One Nation Conservative is still there in many of the events (if not most…). Highlights: A tale of two generations: can the conservatives inspire the young and keep winning among older voters? Monday 2nd October at 8.30am, Midland Hotel, Victoria Suite and TRG Debate, Fixing the social contract, Monday 2nd October, 12.45pm, Manchester Central, Central 3.
We’ve remembered we are a campaigning party (and, especially in London, we’re putting up a fight)
I have my suspicions about why this is, but when the previous team at no10 seems to have been made up of policy wonks and wannabe philosophers who are currently writing columns in the papers telling the party what to do when their advice seems to have been largely responsible for the current state of affairs, and now the team at no10 is made up of people who have a reputation for having an army operation instead of a campaign it’s easy to see why that would be. There is also to say that I expect 90% of the members surveys run by CCHQ returned with not exactly polite statements about the last election campaign, which incidentally was also attributed to the overarching control of no10 over the party itself. Now we have training for activists at conference, and events that are geared towards not only fixing the manifesto we all found so hard to sell on the doorsteps (a lot on social care…), but also about how to find our mojo and identity as a party which we seem to have lost. Highlights: TRG Panel: Building the winning coalition, ten actions to win the next elections, Tuesday 3rd of October, 10.30am, Manchester Central, Exchange 2-3. Engaging to Win: strategies for community outreach, Tuesday 3rd of October, 2.45pm, Radisson Blue Edwardian, Disraeli Suite. (If you are in London, Syed Kamall has also organised an event similar to one he run in London recently on whether Tories have a London problem, Tuesday 3rd of October, 7.30pm, Manchester Central, Central 3)
There are also a number of events about local government which are all of notice if you are a sitting councillor or candidate for 2018. Another very interesting event which underpins all possible topics is “Is the intellectual Momentum all with the Left?”, still on Tuesday 3rd of October, 2pm, Manchester Central, Cobden 3&4.
Also, if you are so inclined, the annual Conservative Christian Fellowship service in on Sunday 1st October 2017 7pm for 7.30 start, Manchester Town Hall, Albert Square, M2 5DB. See you in Manchester, or follow what’s going on on Twitter at #CPC17.
Photo courtesy of @Adam_Allcroft.