The Conservative Party Conference 2018

The Conservative Party Conference 2018

Articles, Current Affairs, Events

Theresa May swapped her position as Prime Minister for Dancing Queen at her speech to round off the Conservative Party Conference on Wednesday. To applause and cheers, the Prime Minister launched into her speech – marking the end of the four day conference which began on Sunday 30th September. The Conference will surely remain in the minds of many members of the Party and of the political community long after its finish. In and amongst all of the conflict regarding Brexit, significant reforms were announced, some of which were potent in May’s speech on the final day.

The Conservative Party Conference 2018

Sunday opened to anger concerning security matters – the Conservative Party Conference (CPC) app had a security glitch which allowed members to access the accounts of their fellows with only their email address. Brandon Lewis, the Conservative Party Chairman, was subjected to this anger,at the ‘Challenge the Chairman’ event on the afternoon of the opening day. Other speakers included the defence secretary, Gavin Williamson, who announced reforms such as pension scheme changes to former service personnel which fell onto welcoming ears in the conference hall. However, Brexit was never far away, and this dominated the discussion both within the conference and the media covering it.

Monday saw the development of an insult to May,from the former foreign secretary Boris Johnson through the release of an image of Johnson surrounded by what appeared to be wheat (although this was later identified as grass). This nod to the remarks of the PM when questioned as to her naughtiest activities as a child was interpreted by many to be an attack on the Prime Minister, which could forewarn a leadership bid, and which the Chancellor Philip Hammond rebuked with his statement that ‘Johnson will never be PM’. Other than the bad behaviour in fields, Monday saw the Defence Secretary refuse to apologise for his statement to Russia that she should ‘shut up and go away’ – with the consolation that the Defence Secretary had merely been acting in line with his nature. Hammonds’ Speech on Monday was the most significant event of the day with the Chancellor pushing a ‘pro-Chequers’ agenda, although with a very remain emphasis. Hammond emphasized the fact that Europe remained the geographical neighbours of the UK, and that trade links were vital to ensure that British business was able to survive post-Brexit. “Europe remains, by far, our biggest market. And after 45 years of membership, Britain’s economy has shaped itself around that fact” conveyed the Chancellor to the effect as highlighted above. Hammond marked himself out as a member of the Chequers loyalist movement during his speech and pledged his support to the Prime Minister. In terms of economic planning Hammond stated that he was to continue the period of austerity to ‘maintain fiscal firepower’ in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Tuesday saw one of the most contentious events of the conference, a speech given by Boris Johnson. The day opened with Theresa May undermining the statements of the Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, when he referred to the EU in terms of the former Soviet Union. May stated that this was an inappropriate manner for the EU to be thought of amidst of wide-ranging anger from EU diplomats, such as Donald Tusk, the President of the EU Council. Prior to the speech given by Johnson, the Home Secretary Sajid Javid gave his speech in the Main Hall, whereby he stated that he was considering the capping of low-skilled workers in favour of higher-skilled professions. Javid stated that he was ‘optimistic’ when challenged by a journalist, the fact that Javid’s father, an immigrant from Pakistan, would have been denied entry to the nation under the regime he had proposed. The Confederation for British Industry (CBI) responded to with “The Minister’s proposals for a new system have taken a wrong turn. By dismissing the importance of low-skilled workers to the UK economy, the government risks harming businesses and living standards now and in the future”. At lunchtime, Boris Johnson walked onto the stage of Hall One. He dispelled any rumours of a leadership bid, referring to Hammond’s remark that he would never be leader as the ‘only true prediction the Treasury has ever made’. Johnson then continued to lay out what many thought of as a manifesto bid- citing the importance of the free market, and gaining applause with his praise of the economic theories of Thatcher which may indicate that his former remark was not entirely true. On Brexit, Johnson delivered a similar rhetoric as before – the idea of Chucking Chequers, and lobbying for the Canada +++ deal; which he had contested in previous Telegraph articles. Various political commentators, such as the Brexit-supporting Iain Dale, stated that there was ‘nothing new’ in what Johnson had to say.

Wednesday was the final day of the speech, and saw May give her final speech to conference. Prior to her entrance, the Attorney General Geoffrey Cox QC was employed as hype-man, a role which he performed spectacularly in the eyes of many. May entered the stage at lunchtime, to ABBA’s ‘Dancing Queen’ – a bit of a surprise to say the least. After some quips concerning letters falling off of walls and coughing – a nod to the previous Party Conference in 2017, May launched into her speech. May started with a call for unity and for calm in the political sphere, citing the abuse of Diane Abbott as an example of political emotion taken too far. This was seen by many as an olive branch to the Labour Party to support Chequers in any future parliamentary vote; to bolster the Tory line in the event of defectors on the Brexit wing of the Parliamentary Conservative Party, although was angrily responded to by Abbott, who stated that the Conservatives had been the instigators of much of the insult levied against her. May continued on her defence that her Chequers deal was appropriate to avoid hard borders between Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland, in addition to the fact that this enabled the retention of parliamentary sovereignty, and frictionless trade – delivering on the result of the referendum, the lines which she had boasted since the deal was formed in July. Besides the usual defence of Chequers, May announced some significant changes in policy. The ending of the cap on council borrowing for a housing budget, for instance; was welcomed by the Local Government Association as ‘fantastic’; in addition to the fact that May announced that the ‘end of austerity is in sight’ – although this was in contrast somewhat to the words of the Chancellor on Monday. May ended her speech with triumph, when joined by her husband, Philip May.

Conclusion and overall interpretations:

Overall, the Conservative Party conference was the battleground over Brexit, between Boris Johnson, and the acolytes of the ERG, and those who supported Chequers. This battle was decidedly won by May, who dominated headlines with her speech, not least due to the dancing performed at the beginning – which pushed Johnson from the public eye, a key victory for May in the battle for the hearts and minds of MPs, and Tory members. May was roundly congratulated for her speech, as effective and inspiring, which is a crucial conclusion for the Prime Minister. Other than this conflict, the Conference was as to be expected, policy announcements, defences of statements made and a tightened post-Brexit immigration policy. Other policy proposals such as the end of caps on borrowing have incensed many to greater levels of support for the Party, and ensured that Brexit, for once, was not the headline act at the Conference. This has not saved the PM however – rhetoric only goes so far in such a contentious matter, and the real crunch for May will be when parliament votes on the Final Brexit Deal, when May returns for the earmarked Summit with other EU leaders later this year, although the Conference and the support of her cabinet in the public eye, has certainly gained her time. I can’t stop humming ABBA now either.

Oliver Bramley 

Fifty Years of the Northern Ireland Troubles

Fifty Years of the Northern Ireland Troubles

Articles, Events

On the 5th of October 1968, a conflict known as the Troubles broke out in Northern Ireland, resulting in 30 years of violence between Irish Republicans, Ulster Loyalists and state security forces. 3532 people were killed in Northern Ireland as well as in incidents affecting the Republic of Ireland and England. At the heart of this conflict was the constitutional status of 6 Ulster counties that were under United Kingdom sovereignty, but in the early days of sectarian violence, civil rights and an end to discrimination against the Catholic minority of the North were more prominent issues.

Fifty Years of the Northern Ireland Troubles

BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND – APRIL 10: Former US President Bill Clinton holds (R) hands with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair as they attend an event to mark the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement at Queens university on April 10, 2018 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland’s present devolved system of government is based on this agreement and was a major part of the 1990’s peace process. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

The 1960s were a decade of great social upheaval in the western world: most notably, Martin Luther King led a civil rights movement in the USA, aimed at ensuring equal rights for black people. Inspired by these events, Catholic-Nationalist groups in Northern Ireland began planning marches to improve their political representation and access to social services. Under the banner of the NICRA (Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association), in August 1968, Catholics led a protest in Dungannon to oppose discrimination, gerrymandering and a housing system in County Tyrone that was unfair (famously, a single Protestant woman was allocated a house ahead of multiple Catholic families).

Two months later, the same group focussed its attentions on the unionist-sympathising Londonderry Company that developed housing policy. Though the Northern Irish government had banned their march, it went ahead in defiance on the 5th of October 1968 in the city of Derry. As their route passed through the Protestant area of Waterside, RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) officers began to use batons and water cannons to disperse the protestors. A riot broke out and images of the violence were broadcast by media worldwide.

The fallout from this incident greatly destabilised the North: Prime Minister Terence O’Neill called a snap-election to fight his critics, but this caused the ruling UUP (Ulster Unionist Party) to cede ground to their rivals, the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party – a party alleged to collude with the UVF and UDA loyalist paramilitary groups in later years). Eventually, O’Neill was forced to resign the following year.

Subsequent civil rights marches were met with Protestant counter-protests, leading to more riots and the first deaths of the Troubles. In 1969, the Catholic Bogside area of Derry became overrun with violence with the police unable to contain it, eventually causing Stormont to request assistance from the British Army – Operation Banner had begun and would only end in 2007, making it the longest campaign in British military history.

At first welcomed by Catholics, the Army soon came to be seen as biased towards Protestant Loyalists, and soldiers became victims of attacks by the Provisional IRA (Irish Republican Army). Tit-for-tat violence between Republicans (the IRA, INLA and IPLO) and Loyalists (the UVF, UDA, RHC, UR and LVF) consisted of assassinations, bombings and ambushes; this was further complicated by violent incidents between groups of the same ideology. Bloody Sunday, January 1972, was perhaps the most famous event in the Troubles: 14 unarmed civilians were killed by the British Army and IRA recruitment surged.

No ceasefire between the paramilitaries held until the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, which involved the British, Irish and Northern Ireland governments as well as the paramilitary groups. Referendums were held on a constitutional basis for the North across the island of Ireland and, excepting the DUP, every major political party was in favour of the terms.

Since 1998, dissident paramilitaries have continued to operate, though the Good Friday Agreement is widely considered to be a success of Tony Blair’s government. 1841 civilians had died before a compromise was agreed, and a violence-weary island seemed ready to decommission their weapons in favour of political negotiation.

In relation to today, the issue of the Irish border is a major obstacle to Brexit negotiations as, under the terms of the GFA, cross-border cooperation and a lack of border checks was implemented. With one country in and the other out of the EU, this arrangement is more difficult to apply though, for the purposes of peace and pragmatism, a sensible solution to this problem should be agreed.

By Matthew Audcent

SNP Conference 2018

SNP Conference 2018

Articles, Current Affairs, Events

For four days on the Saturday of the 7th of October, Glasgow was a brim with hustle and bustle for the annual SNP party conference. Nicola sturgeon gave a meticulously orchestrated speech, the Westminster government was heavily criticized, and praise was given to Scotland’s attempts to tackle period poverty (albeit with acknowledgment that more must be done).

SNP Conference 2018

As expected the talking point of Sturgeon’s speech was primarily on the topic of Brexit, and what it could (or could not) mean for Scotland. As previously announced by the party leader, SNP MPs would get behind a second referendum or ‘peoples vote’. Despite some of the other major parties giving a clear message that this would be a blatant disregard for democracy and that the voters of the referendum would feel betrayed.

Heavy criticism was given to The Conservatives, largely due to their ‘shambolic’ and ‘incompetent’ attempts at negotiating for a trade deal with the EU; pointing out the resignation of Brexit secretary David Davis and Boris Johnson as foreign secretary.

Claiming the independence Scotland wants is the ‘very opposite of Brexit’, Nicola gave a message to the party members that although Scotland is largely ignored by the government on the issue of Brexit (The Scottish government’s compromise request to remain in the single market and its demand to have a role in negotiations both dismissed) its members must acquire patience if they want to escape ‘Westminster Control’ as it is ‘not what Scotland deserves’.

The Scottish first minister said that she was ‘more confident than ever’ that Scotland would achieve independence from the UK, but called for members to work harder at convincing no voters from the 2014 independence referendum if they were going to achieve their goal. Additionally, she stated the party must ‘wait for the fog of Brexit to clear’. It’s evident that the SNP is relying on the Brexit negotiations to take a turn for the worse to catalyse a spur of passion for an independent Scotland. In times when the other parties are facing tough publicity, SNP is using this turmoil to present an independent Scotland as a prosperous country and a ‘beacon of progressive values’

On less controversial issues, Climate Change was also on the agenda this year. With the United Nations predicting for Scotland to become one of the first Carbon-Neutral countries, The SNP was keen to take advantage of this fact to paint themselves as a more green SNP. Alongside a rather impressive pledge for a publicly-owned, not for profit energy company to be set up by 2021 (the end of the Scottish Parliamentary term). On top of that, plans for a new low-emissions zone in Glasgow were announced for the end of 2018, which received positive enthusiasm.

With teachers moving closer to strike over pay action in Scotland, John Swiney got the dominoes falling with the announcement of £20,000 bursaries to be made available for professionals in key subjects to go into teacher training. But teacher’s want more pay in Scotland, and many have criticized this as wholly insufficient.

After leaving the most recent general election with heavy losses in terms of parliamentary seats, Ms Sturgeons leadership has been called into question over the last year. But, like last year, the party leader’s speech just was the defining point of the conference by a million miles, the moment everybody was waiting for. Nicola had the audience eating out of her palm, with just enough new-policy and vision to reaffirm her as the obvious leader of the SNP. And with the recent polls showing an increase in support of the party, it’s likely many delegates would have called the conference a success.

Louie wells

Plaid Cymru Party Conference 2018

Plaid Cymru Party Conference 2018

Articles, Current Affairs, Events

One hugely significant thing which happened at Plaid Cymru’s conference at the start of this month was their new leader, Adam Price, making his first major speech. Members greeted him with applause at the conference in Cardigan before he even began to speak, a clear indication that Price is already popular within the party.

 Plaid Cymru Party Conference 2018

Just a week prior to the conference, on the 28th of September, Price won the leadership election. The members of Plaid Cymru are entitled to a vote on the leadership every two years, but this was the first time the previous leader, Leanne Woods, who had held her position since 2012, had been challenged. Despite the tension this could have caused, the party put up a united front: Woods attended the conference with a front row seat at the new leader’s speech, even giving a speech herself, and Price accredited and praised her. This was a nice contrast to the divisions within the Labour and Conservative parties we are so used to hearing about.

As party leader, Price’s ultimate vision for Wales is simple: make Wales a more autonomous nation. Using a phrase which echoed Barack Obama in 2008, he strove to convince his audience ‘yes, Wales can’. He called for a ‘new chapter’ in which Wales controlled itself, and made its own decisions, rather than following rules made by the centralised government at Westminster.   

Naturally, Brexit was high on the party’s agenda. Speaking passionately of the historic ties between the Welsh and the Europeans, Price described Brexit for Wales as being ‘on the Titanic, heading for an Iceberg’. His party have vowed to campaign to remain in the European Union. The party have voiced their support for a People’s Vote – a second Brexit referendum – and Price has stressed previously that he would like to see ‘Remain’ on the ballot if that’s what it came down to. The youth branch of the party (Plaid Ifanc) are also campaigning along these lines. Their campaign for votes for 16s ties into this hugely: of course, leaving the EU will have the biggest impact on young people, and for this reason, Plaid Ifanc believe that young people deserve their voices heard. Whether this will be supported by the majority of Welsh people is yet to be discovered: 52.5% of those who voted in Wales opted to leave the European Union in 2016.

Plaid Cymru have also rejected Conservative Secretary of State for Wales Alan Cairns’ plan for a ‘Western Powerhouse’ linking Newport, Cardiff and Bristol, which he said would give the Welsh economy a boost. Instead, if they get into power, Plaid Cymru aim to build their own fast, reliable and modern railway (National Western Rail Line), powered by renewable energy, stretching from Swansea to Bangor. This idea is fitting with the theme that ran throughout Price’s speech; that the Welsh people should be able to shape their country themselves. This will be their ultimate challenge.

Significantly, at the conference, Price assured party members that Plaid Cymru would call an independence referendum if they got into power. His worry is that England and Wales will be tied together indefinitely, and Wales will end up ‘at the mercy of Westminster’, especially in terms of the final Brexit deal. It is unclear at the moment how the Welsh people would feel about this. Polls over the past 5 years have shown that support for complete Welsh independence is very low; however, support for more devolved powers for the assembly is much more popular and this may be a more likely outcome.

All of these ideas are progressive and exciting for Wales, but it’s unclear if and when they will materialise. Wales has traditionally been a Labour heartland, and Welsh Labour are still the biggest party in the Welsh assembly. At the conference, Price spoke passionately about replacing the ‘hundred-year rule’ of Labour in Wales with the government of Plaid Cymru. At the moment, Plaid Cymru is the third biggest party in the Welsh Assembly, but they remain hopeful that they can take over seats in the 2021 elections. In the light of Brexit these are turbulent political days and what will happen next for Plaid Cymru, and for the youth of Wales is anybody’s guess.

Molli Tyldesley

Labour Party Conference 2018

Labour Party Conference 2018

Articles, Current Affairs, Events

 The ACC Liverpool, home to the annual Labour party conference 2018, is located near the well-known Albert dock of Liverpool. On the rather dreary, rainy and windy day of Sunday 23 September 2018, the conference opened for delegates and members of the Labour party across the world. The first day hosted a Youth day for Young Labour members, a growing phenomenon for the party.

Labour Party Conference 2018

It can be said that the election gains made in the 2017 General Election for the Labour party occurred off the backs of young people turning out to vote – for Labour. Promises that the Labour manifesto 2017 made, such as the promise to eliminate university tuition fees, targeted young people specifically and by January 2018, party sources confirmed that the youth wing (14-26 years old) of the party had almost 100,000 members. Comparing this to the 102,000 total members of the Liberal Democrat party at the same time, Young Labour could be a party of its own right.

This Youth Day began with a speech by Jennie Formby, the General Secretary, surrounding the recent growth of the party before plunging into a panel on international human rights. Notably, Grainne Griffin, Co-Director of the Together for Yes campaign to legalise abortion in Ireland, spoke about the history of the fight to win unconditional access to abortion for all women in Ireland. Together for Yes has historically been run by younger women in particular, and the fairly recent success of the Irish referendum on abortion made it a particularly relevant issue, as well as considering that Northern Ireland is yet to legalise abortion. Previously, the numbers of Irish women flying to England for an abortion were very high, and with the Irish border being up for debate in regards to Brexit, the future of women in Northern Ireland is more uncertain than ever.

This speech was possibly most inspiring and thought-provoking in the Labour Youth day. It lacked the typical elements one finds in most speeches by politicians and other campaigners addressing young people, for example, the incessant need to emphasise how old they feel.

Ed Miliband, ex-leader of the Labour party, could be found in a fringe event debating inequality in Britain, which has stayed at a consistent high since the 1980s, and called for a more revolutionary approach to tackling inequality, including the possibility of having a 4-day working week. In a Labour conference, the opinions discussed are usually even further left-wing than shown in the public eye. The 2015 Labour manifesto under Ed Miliband was more centrist than the 2017 manifesto under Corbyn, yet Miliband himself seems to be more supportive of the current Labour politics, though he did not enact this as leader, for fear of not appealing to enough voters. The growth of the party under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has almost entirely thrown away Blair’s New Labour stance and replaced it with a much more socialist following than it did prior to the new century, so Labour politicians are more open to veer further away from the centre now more than ever.

Of course all the real action was happening in the main hall, where delegates from all over the country were voting on party policy. Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, John McDonnell proposed Labour’s new policy of nationalising our water system as Scotland already does, with the (however disputable) claim that it would have no extra cost. Even more significantly, Corbyn confirmed that the option of a second EU referendum cannot be ruled out by the Labour party if the members do not wish for it to be so. Many Labour members or Labour voters have been put off by Labour’s pro-Brexit policies in the 2017 manifesto and a significant proportion of the membership support a second referendum. However, this did not stop many from voting Labour as they still gained many seats in the General Election and the Liberal Democrats, the main party pioneering an anti-Brexit position, did not make significant gains. Corbyn also said that Labour would be prepared to back a deal negotiated by Theresa May if they found it suitable. As the opposition party, Labour is able to have a more comfortable position on Brexit, allowing all or most options to stay on the table as they are not having to negotiate it themselves. Brexit is the key contentious issue that is currently splitting the country, in particular the Conservative party as the pressure on Theresa May to make a deal that the majority will accept increases day-by-day. Without this pressure, Corbyn enjoys the ability of satisfying all sides of the Brexit debate by keeping all options open for the Labour party.

Overall the 2018 Labour conference served the purpose of rallying members for the possibility of another General Election which, with the current situation on Brexit, could spring on us unexpectedly. Labour is still on a winning high from gaining so many seats in 2017 and believes that the sooner another election occurs, the higher the possibility of Labour winning in the foreseeable future.

Safa Al-Azami