In his second guest post for Vuelio, Stuart Thomson rounds up the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham.
The differences between the two party conferences, Labour and Conservatives, could not have been more stark. The Conservative conference differed in a number of significant ways, not least in the party’s ability to demonstrate unity.
From the atmosphere to the number of attendees, the number of fringe meetings to the queues at the conference bars, the Conservative Party conference was how a conference should run. Despite attempts to gain some space for Labour by the #JC4PM campaign, this week was all about showing how different the Conservatives were and could be from Labour. Even holding an event such as that broke the generally accepted unwritten convention that the parties keep away from each other’s conferences.
The Conservative Party followed some basic rules with their conference:
- Boils lanced – by getting Brexit out of the way on the first day of conference, Theresa May was able to move on. Things may not be that easy again as the negotiations progress but by talking about Article 50 being triggered before the end of March 2017, she got proceedings off to a bang and kept potential opponents quiet.
- Unity – differences of opinion were expressed around the fringe meetings but nothing approached a challenge to Mrs May. Proceedings were all about discussion and policy development, not dissent. It would be easy to forget that she wasn’t elected by her party’s membership but Jeremy Corbyn was, and only the day before Labour’s conference started.
- Presentation, presentation, presentation – there was no altering of speeches at the last minute, this was a conference which was planned and then delivered to that plan. People clapped at the right time and gave very little away with their body language.
- Mrs May looked like she wanted to be there – unlike Jeremy Corbyn’s general demeanour especially when arriving very late for business events, Mrs May gave the impression of wanting to attend.
- Playing the media game – it is a deliberate strategy of Corbyn’s Labour Party not to play the media game. Whilst Mrs May is already setting some clear ground rules about her media engagement, or even lack of it over the summer, she did the right thing at conference with interviews, a few gentle personal revelations and an obvious grid for announcements.
In her end of conference speech, Mrs May tried the same trick that Tony Blair did for Labour in the run-up to 1997, stealing the political clothes of the other party. Labour won in 1997 at least in part because of Blair’s ability to talk meaningfully about the party’s core issues of health and education whilst stealing the Conservatives’ traditional strengths on the economy. This was in part down to the Conservatives vacating the economic competence space because of Black Wednesday. This week May took on Labour by talking about workers’ rights, an industrial strategy and building houses (amongst others). She is obviously assuming that Labour has vacated those spaces in the eyes of many voters. If successful, it would be one of the most successful political land grabs of all time.
At the end of the two conferences it is clear that the Conservatives have a unity of purpose that is lacking across Labour. The Conservatives are the ones with all the momentum.