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.
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.
ContributorOliver spends his time contributing articles for Youth Politics UK as well as working hard on his studies. His allegiance lies with the conservative government and he believes in the values of both his own party and the Youth Politics Movement