This week in politics: Conference, coughing and coups
The conference period that was
Labour’s conference began with an early coup for its leader and the his faction of the party; the National Executive Committee ruled that the minimum number of nominations needed to get on a leadership ballot has been lowered from 15% of MPs and MEPs to 10%. This will make it much easier for a left leaning successor to Corbyn to be voted in by the Party in the future.
The cult of personality surrounding Corbyn was well evidenced in Brighton with chants of ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn’ ringing out through the conference auditorium, not least from Deputy leader Tom Watson, whose own attempt at this summer’s biggest anthem was seen by many lobby journalists as the capitulation of the Party’s centrists. In terms of policy, Brexit was well and truly off the cards, but Corbyn’s pledges for a review of social housing, state nationalisation and a public sector pay rise were, naturally, well received by the Party faithful.
In sharp contrast to the triumphalism on the South Coast, the Conservatives travelled up to Manchester for four days of soul searching. Many of the Cabinet speeches were aimed at defending the principles of a free market and directly attacking Jeremy Corbyn, reflecting just how much on the back foot the Conservatives currently feel following the election.
There were however, a number of reasons for the Party to be optimistic; Jacob Rees Mogg, who over the summer has become the party faithful’s equivalent to Jeremy Corbyn spoke to a number of capacity crowds outlining his vision for a Brexit shaped by traditional Conservative values. Amber Rudd pledged a new immigration system after Brexit and announced plans for a new internet safety green paper to be released next week.
Unfortunately, all of this was overshadowed by Theresa May’s speech, perhaps the unluckiest to ever befall a Party leader. To her great credit May managed to get through an hour of an address plagued with coughs, a broken stage, Lee Nelson and protestors but many now believe the damage is done. Only this morning Hatfield MP Grant Shapps has mounted a very public coup on the Friday that finished the week that was meant to be the rebirth of the Party.
On the conference benches special
Best conference anecdote
While we are sure that Prime Minister Theresa May may have wished she was lightyears from Earth on Wednesday, her occasional sparring partner Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson had other suggestions for potential interstellar explorers during his speech to Conference, saying ‘’We have a growing space programme run by my brother Jo Johnson, and I have a candidate for the first man we gently blast into orbit. That is the superannuated space cadet from Islington.”
Best fringe event
Although not strictly an official conference fringe, this award has to go to the ‘Acid corbynism’ event, put on by Momentum during Labour conference. The event promised a debate on the ‘World transformed’ and ‘Acid Corbynism’, a take on the acid communism book which explores a socialist utopia. The event was followed by a very surreal DJ set from house artist ‘Horse Meat Disco’. Ironic really, considering Corbyn’s recent move towards veganism.
Best sing along
As is conference tradition, there were many late night singalongs and karaoke sessions in both Manchester and Brighton, with a particular highlight including Minister for Digital Matt Hancock and DEFRA Minister Therese Coffey singing Don’t Stop Me Now. However, the award has to go to the lobby hacks, who had a full room in Manchester, led by Sky’s Faisal Islam, belting out the words to the Oasis classic Don’t look back in anger. Pointedly, the lobby decided to change words to ‘So, Boris can wait, he knows it’s too late as he’s walking on by…’. However, following the events of the past 24 hours, will Boris have to wait much longer…?
Tweet of the Week
Good week/ Bad week
Good conference season for.. Jeremy Corbyn. Not only did he receive the rapturous applause and ovation normally reserved for conquering Roman generals, but Corbyn had supporters at his conference so loyal that they would not accept that he was not the Prime Minister. If that wasn’t enough, the Conservative party conference seemed to have lost some ideological ground on Corbyn’s terms, with the Government defending the free market and announcing some distinctly left-wing policies like an energy cap and effectively nationalising organs. It culminated in his opponent falling onto a sword left unhelpfully lying around and reviving a leadership debate which makes May’s position increasingly uncertain and Corbyn’s claims that Labour are a ‘government in waiting’ ever more credible.
Bad week for: Tory Party Conference organisers. It was meant to be the speech that redefined Theresa May’s domestic agenda, but Wednesday’s turn at the podium very quickly descended into farce. Questions will continue to be asked over how comedian Simon Brodkin was able to get close enough to the Prime Minister to hand her a comedy P45, and why he was allowed to continue his jeering for so long. Adding injury to insult, May struggled with a sore throat that at times left her voiceless. While the Chancellor was on hand with Strepsils, her key policy announcements were met with cheers of encouragement, rather than political triumphalism. A classic British comedy could not have ended better (or indeed, worse) as the set began to fall apart around her.