Recap: Protests, blimps and very little else at lacklustre Conservative Party Conference in Manchester

A conference that came and went in the blink of an eye and ended with a predictable Boris rhetorical onslaught has now already been forgotten.

Conferences typically offer a look into a party’s future with bold policy statements and foundations laid.

However this Conservative conference in the heart of Manchester did not conform to the rules.   

Instead the event was overshadowed by events taking place away from Manchester and has subsequently been dismissed by the continuing battle between the EU and the Prime Minister.

The resumption of parliament only a few days before severely limited the events scope and overall made for a less interesting event.

Michael Tomlinson, MP for Mid-Dorset North-Poole and Parliamentary Private Secretary to Jacob Rees-Mogg, is one of the many MPs to have voiced their frustration at being in parliament during the event.

He told MM: “It’s a great shame I’m not there because the conference is a great opportunity to get to speak to members and to discuss policy ideas and I’m really sorry that I’m not in Manchester.”

Asked whether he thought the conference would still play a big role despite this, he insisted: “I think it’s still an important event, and I think this conference was due to see more members than ever before descend upon Manchester.”

While the conference did still attract large numbers to the bars and cafes of Manchester, what else was particularly achieved in terms of British politics?

The last Conservative conference was at least memorable for the gaffes including May’s persistent coughing fits, letters falling to the stage behind her, and comedian Lee Nelson handing her a P45.

Other than this Theresa May’s speech did include policy points such as a review of tuition fees, which, even if they may not be applicable now, were key talking points back in 2017.

The Northern Powerhouse – that once great Tory policy of revamping the north of England – made a key appearance in Philip Hammond’s speech, seemingly revitalising the idea in one of its flagship cities.


What about the events surrounding the conference?

The protesters predictably still came out in force and tried their best to make their voices heard.

The Sunday of the conference attracted the biggest demonstration with the ‘Boris blimp’ attracting a large crowd at the Castlefield Bowl.

Manchester for Europe’s Helen Atkinson used her speech to shout “please leave our town” to rapturous cheers.

After the event she told MM: “People are angry at the Conservatives coming here on a jolly.

“Boris saying Manchester just wants to get Brexit done is ridiculous.”

This matched plenty of signs in the crowd expressing their discontent at the Conservatives choosing Manchester as their spot for a conference.

Also at the event was Labour MEP for the North West Julie Ward who deplored the lack of national media coverage in the wake of an “existential crisis happening with rising food bank usage and increasing homelessness”, when asked about the event by MM.

Even with plenty of protest there was still a feeling of a conference simply going through the motions with little controversy surrounding the actual event itself.

When it came to Johnson’s speech, any excitement was quickly washed away by a lack of substance and an immediate look towards the next process of EU negotiations.

And away from the politics, scandals surrounding Johnson’s private life were always going to take centre stage.

This notion of everything but the conference mattering was further illustrated by the fact that even a Prime Minister’s Questions including Diane Abbott and Dominic Raab sparked little excitement.

Eventually the barricades have come down on an event that was as uncontroversial and smooth as possible with all eyes back on Westminster and Brussels.

Daily Mancunian life was uninterrupted and there is no love lost between the city and the Conservative party.

Who knows if the Northern Powerhouse will ever resurface in British politics.

Image courtesy of Guardian Live via YouTube, with thanks.

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