Conservative Party Conference in Manchester (Photo by Oli SCARFF / AFP)
Artillery Row

Reflections on a ravaged conference

There is a chance here for the rebirth of the right

Each Conservative Party Conference is defined not by its speeches, scandals or the Prime Minister who steps off the main stage into the meat-grinder shortly after. It is defined by a vibe, which eludes the narrative control attempted by an increasingly sclerotic CCHQ.

At last year’s Conference, the Party reached the “Denial” stage of grief for its post-2019 electability. This was betrayed when it fell over itself to join outlets like the BBC and Byline TV in condemning the head of Young Conservatives, who had the gall to brand the architectural eyesore that is Birmingham a “dump. Its projection of strength was so precarious after Partygate that it didn’t have the wherewithal to pivot and blame decades of Labour mismanagement for the city’s ugliness and inter-ethnic tensions. Instead, insecurity shone through. An innocuous tweet about the unpleasantness of the area around the secure zone demanded a full investigation (followed by a quiet and quite rightful reinstating of said YC Chair’s membership).

Londoners feel no longer at home, but with nowhere else to go

The party did this because nobody believed the likes of Penny Mordaunt when she insisted that the Conservative government was on track to win the next election. The consequences of broken promises and shoddy policy-making were manifest in the host city. In Birmingham, and everywhere else, the decline is undeniable. In market towns like Swindon, half of the highstreet is boarded up. London is like a Tower of Babel: the temporary economic extraction zone for people from everywhere, who don’t belong anywhere. Few things work. When trains aren’t cancelled over strike action, they are delayed by signal failures, driver shortages, or the tragic and increasing number of suicides. The buildings where they were manufactured have been hollowed out, infested by fast-food chains and fast-fashion retailers. Graffiti comes to be the only distinguishing character between these hives of globally homogenising consumerism. You can see how this wears down the inhabitants — who feel no longer at home, but with nowhere else to go.

The world on our doorstep is unrecognisable to anyone born before 1997 and alienating to anyone, like me, born after the Gramscian success of Blairism. Successive Conservative governments have stewarded, even accelerated, this decline. They are now paying the price in the waning faith and dwindling numbers of their membership. Nobody believes that, for the current Conservative government, things can only get better.

This year, though, the mood was split. The increasing number of corporate sponsors and empty booths on the show floor demonstrated that none of the energy is with the Hunt, Gove and Mordaunt types who wish to continue Progress-as-planned. They are reaching the “depression” stage — with the Prime Minister’s new pledges and Net Zero reversals keeping the “Bargaining” door open, for the few voters who aren’t yet persuaded by Labour or intending to abstain entirely.

The enthusiasm was to be found instead with 2019 intake MPs over at the New Conservatives. Their tenure in newly-won Red Wall, Wiltshire and Suffolk seats is threatened to be short-lived because the government has failed to deliver the policies they campaigned on and believe in. Yes, to those sceptical of the Party for all the reasons listed above, they do truly believe in them. The New Conservatives’ attempt to right the sinking ship seems to be resonating. At Monday’s manifesto rally, attendees stood cheek-to-jowl for two hours to hear speeches from backbenchers and former cabinet ministers on lowering immigration, creating tax incentives for families, and evicting wokeness from Whitehall. Paired with the packed drinks reception in the evening, attended by the Home Secretary, this felt like more than the tired platitudes about regaining control of our borders that have been served to us in every manifesto but left unfulfilled.

My suspicions were confirmed when, whilst going through security, a self-identified “centrist” former MP said to my colleague that the New Conservatives “terrify” him. If the wets see Miriam Cates and Danny Kruger as harbingers of an extinction event, then they are over the target.

The ashes of the prior paradigm are fertiliser for revitalising

For the Blairite types leading the Party, the desperation to retain power is causing them to seek assistance from surprising sources. It’s not just the New Conservatives making headway with an insistence on reducing immigration. The Prime Minister signalled his willingness to allow Nigel Farage to return to the Conservative Party. The only man in Britain who would prove a greater post-Brexit election winner than Boris was the show-stealer when he arrived on Monday morning. Even a year ago, his presence was unwelcome. Now, he’s doing karaoke with the former Home Secretary — herself aligning with the New Conservatives. We are in the position where a post-defeat Nigel Farage Conservative leadership bid is a possibility. If that gives you cause to grimace, then you may soon find yourself no longer belonging to the Party at all.

The same holds for transgenderism. It has become morally untenable to deny the deception, surgical mutilation, and chemical castration of children and vulnerable adults under the pretence that you can change sex. It is a politically toxic lie. The Home Secretary has acknowledged it. The Prime Minister has acknowledged it. The base and the public support it. Yes, you will be removed if you obfuscate that fact and call it a myth.

After #13Years, we have little left to conserve. Yet, the ashes of the prior paradigm are fertiliser for revitalising an unapologetically patriotic polis and, more importantly, a wholesome oikos. Multiple MPs, activists and media figures are advocating for making the health and integrity of British families the primary measure of the greatness of our nation again.

The Conservative Party will be for turning — in which case, next year’s vibe could well be “Rebirth”.

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