Can Mrs May boost the Tory Party’s spir­its?

Daily Express - - NEWS -

NO ONE is ex­pect­ing blue scarves em­bla­zoned with Theresa May’s name to be held aloft in Manch­ester in the com­ing days. In con­trast to the football ter­race-style adu­la­tion for Jeremy Cor­byn at Labour’s gath­er­ing this week, the final fix­ture in the party po­lit­i­cal con­fer­ence season will be more muted. Tories head­ing to the soc­cer-mad north­ern city this week­end are feel­ing more like rel­e­ga­tion con­tenders than cham­pi­ons.

The Prime Min­is­ter’s sec­ond Tory con­fer­ence as party leader is set to be a far tougher chal­lenge than her first. A year ago Mrs May was bask­ing in a po­lit­i­cal hon­ey­moon and ap­peared to have an unas­sail­able com­mand of her party. She is due to ar­rive in Manch­ester to­mor­row with her author­ity di­min­ished by the dis­ap­point­ing re­sult in the snap elec­tion and the loss of the Tory ma­jor­ity in the Com­mons.

Tory in­sid­ers say the Prime Min­is­ter and her speech writ­ers have been strug­gling with her con­fer­ence ad­dress. The dead­en­ing acous­tic of the cav­ernous main hall at the Manch­ester Cen­tral venue will be the least of her wor­ries. Mrs May has to find the words to apol­o­gise to her party grass­roots for lead­ing them into an ex­haust­ing and fruit­less elec­toral bat­tle.

Her al­lies in­sist she can start the task of rais­ing party morale by in­ject­ing a new sense of ur­gency into her pol­icy plans for the country. “The re­ally important thing is that we keep a grip on the do­mes­tic agenda. There will be some key an­nounce­ments rolled out dur­ing the week,” a se­nior min­is­te­rial source told me.

MRS May’s aides are ner­vous about re­cent Cab­i­net squab­bles over the de­tails of the EU with­drawal process break­ing out in the con­fer­ence hall. Speeches by se­nior min­is­ters with lead­er­ship am­bi­tions – most par­tic­u­larly For­eign Sec­re­tary Boris Johnson, Chan­cel­lor Philip Ham­mond and EU Exit Sec­re­tary David Davis – will be scru­ti­nised for nu­ances of lan­guage that might point to­wards com­pet­ing vi­sions of Brexit.

Experienced hands fear that Cab­i­net divi­sions are the big­gest threat to the de­par­ture from the Euro­pean bloc. Tory elec­toral for­tunes are in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked to mak­ing a suc­cess of that pro­ject, they in­sist. “The vot­ers will not for­give us if we are dis­tracted by in­ter­nal bat­tles in the run-up to 2019,” the min­is­te­rial source said. “We’ve got to make sure we de­liver Brexit, that is the most important thing. We have to get out of the EU – ev­ery­thing else flows from it.” Yet for all the trep­i­da­tion about the week ahead some se­nior Tories be­lieve a new sense of unity and pur­pose could be­gin to flower at the con­fer­ence. Grass­roots Tory mem­bers will have been re­volted by the so­cial­ist eco­nomic lu­nacy spouted by shadow min­is­ters and the thug­gish be­hav­iour of some hard-Left ac­tivists on dis­play at the Labour con­fer­ence in Brighton.

THAT re­al­i­sa­tion that they face the most dan­ger­ous so­cial­ist threat in a gen­er­a­tion is likely to be in­ten­si­fied by a siege men­tal­ity behind the ring-of-steel se­cu­rity fences in Manch­ester, where Left-wing ac­tivists are plan­ning rau­cous daily protests against so-called Tory aus­ter­ity.

For many Tories a de­sire to fight so­cial­ism and de­fend the free mar­ket is what drove them into pol­i­tics in the first place. Some will be look­ing for a new stan­dard bearer from the new gen­er­a­tion of MPs who can lead that fight in the fu­ture.

Fringe meet­ings ad­dressed by ris­ing stars such as Jacob-Rees Mogg, Do­minic Raab and James Clev­erly are bound to be packed as party mem­bers try to size up pos­si­ble can­di­dates for a fu­ture lead­er­ship con­test.

De­vel­op­ing a case for Con­ser­vatism for a new gen­er­a­tion is a more press­ing mat­ter for the party at present. Mrs May be­gan that task this week with a speech strongly de­fend­ing cap­i­tal­ism and will build on that in her key­note ad­dress on Wed­nes­day. This week the Tories need to leave the football scarves and hero wor­ship to Mr Cor­byn and Labour. They need to con­cen­trate on the bat­tle of ideas.

Pic­ture: JACK TAY­LOR/GETTY

MUTED: Mrs May won’t have easy sec­ond con­fer­ence as PM

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