Brexit is here, there is no hiding from it, and this Prime Minister is “getting on with the job”. By placing ‘Global Britain: Making a success of Brexit’ as item number two of 2016’s Conservative Party Conference Agenda, second only to the mandatory ‘Welcome to Conference’ by the Party Chairman, the message is clear and the date for triggering Article 50 of March 2017 is set. For Theresa May, however, tackling the issue head-on from the off was not only necessary but unavoidable to prevent this conference, her first as PM, being overshadowed by Brexit in its entirety. The party membership, both elected and normal, are highly-sensitive to EU-related uncertainty and the media will not pass up on any opportunity to cash in on this rich source of news material.
But this conference is at its core about something more, the rule of the Cameroons has ended and it is now that the Mayites will set out their stall. Key policy announcements across housing, prison reform, the industrial strategy, defence deals with BAE and grammar schools, to name but a few, can be expected. The tone is also shifting as the language used shifts to reflect how May wants the social justice agenda of her Premiership to be seen. How the party membership as a whole takes to the new direction waits to be seen as some still remain to be convinced having had over a decade of Cameron leadership. It is noticeable at conference how some are jubilant, if not ecstatic, that Osborne, Morgan and Gove are relegated to the backbenches whilst others offer a subdued, if not sceptical, reaction that is best described by ‘the jury is out’. The atmosphere is upbeat as would be expected from a party in Government, that has emerged relatively unscathed from a change in Leader and simultaneously tackling its long-standing EU niggle, but also with this a slight complacency in feeling that Corbyn’s Labour will not offer an effective electoral challenge. But the annual party pep-talk is just getting started and it would be premature to declare that the Conservatives are out of the woods yet.