Can Mrs May boost the Tory Party’s spirits?
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.
MUTED: Mrs May won’t have easy second conference as PM