The Tory Party conference is in full ‘swing’ in Manchester; if that is the right expression. What a difference a year makes.
Is it really a year since that catastrophic partnership of Truss and Kwarteng? They were the people who tried to run, economically, before they had learned to walk? It has taken a very long time to recover from the debacle. It took time well into this year for mortgage rates and much else to settle. The Head of Lloyds of London insurance market, a big part of GB Plc, complained in the spring how much our international prestige had been hit by the events of twelve months ago, especially in the ability of the UK to attract new capital and investment.
Part of the trouble with the Truss-Kwarteng thinking was perhaps a lack forethought and of understanding about simple economics. Perhaps, when announcing huge tax cuts, they had balanced this with announcing in tandem significant cuts in public spending it might have worked. They didn’t. Were we to simply borrow to fund the tax cuts, like blowing a cash advance on a credit card with little to show for it but with the interest stacking up further.
There was never any doubt in my mind before the Conservative Party leadership election which put Truss in Downing Street that she was not the right candidate, and I said so clearly before she was elected. In fact I winced at her being appointed Foreign Secretary! Her FCDO officials warned her, not necessarily in my view for the right reasons, to not go to Moscow; but Liz is all about personal PR. Sergei Lavrov, a career diplomat and tour de force on the international stage, metaphorically had her for breakfast as she pranced around in warm weather in a fur coat and hat trying to resemble Margaret Thatcher. Even for me, as a staunch believer in ‘dialogue’, it was tragic. She still has not learned to ‘listen more and talk less’.
In their hearts the Tories know they have to ‘make it with Rishi’, but conference being conference, the faithful – they appear to grow more right-wing as the years pass – enjoy their moments in Manchester to dream. As to Rishi Sunak, whom I once described as “good news” and I still think that, I recall the words of Margaret Thatcher, “there is no alternative”. I admire those members of the Tory Reform Group who are sticking with it. As to how things have changed since I was a Member of Parliament, it is inciteful to think I would never have thought of joining TRG. Yet, like Kenneth Baker, who transformed superbly from Heathite to Thatcherite, in the coming few years there will be chances to modify the Party direction – the feel – of the modern Tory Party.
Just suppose on one issue alone, we start to see clear evidence that Brexit is proving a disaster especially for those of a younger age, pressure will mount for policy and style changes. No, not ‘re-join’ but a move away from the “head-banger” approach. It may not be much, but in the event Sir Keir Starmer becomes PM, and there are a great deal of things which can happen in the next 6-12 months, choosing a new leader, again, from the Opposition benches who may appear very right-wing may assist Labour in gaining a longer time in office than might otherwise have been the case.
Tory Conference is not what it used to be. They are in Manchester with or without HS2. When I was the Tory candidate in Manchester Central in 1987 the Tories came second, of course, even if a long way behind Labour. I doubt that has been repeated much. Expensive days of fun in Bournemouth, Brighton and Blackpool allowed for ‘time’ to really discuss, debate, meet and not the seemingly rushed PR event that we see today. Margaret Thatcher actually looked as if she enjoyed it! She appreciated the faithful. She was with ‘her people’.
Which brings me to one final thought. The attendance of Nigel Farage in Manchester; presumably there as a GBNews presenter rather than conference representative. Politics does need personalities as well as policies. I have never met Nigel Farage. I suspect I would enjoy a drink in his company. Like all insurance brokers, some of whom I do know, he knows how to have fun as well as be serious. I didn’t vote For Brexit but oh how British politics needs an injection of ‘personality’ instead of the boring cardboard cut-outs we often look at in all the Parties.
Maybe at the next election the ‘stay-at-homes’ could be significant?