Looking Ahead to Virtual Conservative Party Conference

Harriet Francis

With Party Conference in a format we have never experienced before, PLMR’s Director of Public Affairs and former Government Special Advisor, Mo Hussein, and Account Executive, Harriet Francis, analyse the state of the Conservative Party and look ahead to some of the events to keep an eye on.

Conservative Party Conference is fast approaching and, as with parties on the other side of the bench, the Conservatives too are going virtual.

With the election almost a year ago and the end of the Brexit Transition Period now under 100 days away, it is a crucial opportunity for Boris Johnson and his Cabinet to showcase and attempt to return their wider policy platform and Manifesto priorities and ‘reset’ beyond the darkness of Covid-19. This is particularly important in terms of keeping the new ‘Red Wall’ voters engaged and happy. Put this against a backdrop of increasing and divisive rebellions in the Commons, with restive Conservative backbenchers on both the libertarian and the internationalist wings of the Party, and a resurgent Labour opposition – it feels like this year’s Conference is more important than ever to unify voters, members and fractious MPs under the common agenda around which they all coalesced last December.

The Conservatives have had a somewhat shaky start to this Parliament, and this is not just in relation to Covid-19. The Prime Minister’s 80-seat majority has enabled him to push through a policy agenda and pass through legislation; however, the Government’s approach has at times not gone down easily in his own party. Rebellions are becoming more apparent, notably with the Trade Bill, Agriculture Bill and the Internal Market Bill. Most recently, backbench and senior MPs have been protesting the Government’s lack of scrutiny of powers detailed in the Coronavirus Act 2020, spearheaded by influential Chair of the 1922 Committee, Graham Brady. Further exacerbated by rows to come on planning reform and taxation, the relationship between the Executive and its own MPs, let alone more widely with Parliament, is looking increasingly strained.

An 80-seat majority has not meant that the latest influx of Conservative MPs are complacent either; in fact the new “Red Wall” MPs have been adamant about holding the Government to account, collectively exercising more weight in Parliament than MPs who have been seated for decades. The former are a very significant and influential grouping for the Government with direct access to Ministers and seen to be at the front of the queue for new investment and funding. The Conservative Party’s objective is to ensure their seats are secured and stay blue at the next election, at which point the Government acknowledges that the state of the Labour Party and the Brexit debate will not be the same issues on the doorstep they were at the General Election in 2019.

Delivering on the Manifesto commitments in a tangible way where people can see and feel a positive difference to their daily lives within the lifetime of this Parliament will likely be the message the Government will want to get across at the Conference. While the scale of ambition and financial commitments will no doubt will severely impacted by the measures the Government has had to take in response to the pandemic, the Prime Minister will want to use this year’s Conference to remind everyone that the Conservatives have not forgotten their promises.

Events to watch out for:

  • Saturday 3rd 2:30pm – Interview with the Trade Secretary, Liz Truss: Against the backdrop of growing scrutiny of the state of trade negotiations with the EU and beyond, and the debate around maintaining standards, expect Liz Truss to address the need for free trade, how we need to project a ‘Global Britain’ and the current state of play on negotiations with the US and EU amongst others.
  • Saturday 3rd 3pm – Speech from the Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab: In the context of the DfID/FCO merger in September, eyes will be on the Foreign Secretary on how he intends to project the UK’s international standing and deliver a firm but fair foreign policy with heart.
  • Sunday 4th 3pm – Speech from the Home Secretary, Priti Patel: Expect the Home Secretary to address the powers and stresses on the police force during the Covid-19 crisis, as well as the ongoing BLM protests and the new points based immigration system.
  • Monday 5th 11:50am Speech by The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak: In the context of the end of furlough on the introduction of the Jobs Support Scheme in his Winter Economy Plan, expect the Chancellor to address fears of how he intends to support the country to level up whilst paying for the damage of coronavirus.
  • Tuesday 6th 11.30am – Speech from The Prime Minister Boris Johnson: The big set piece from the Prime Minister where he is expected to reiterate his commitment to levelling up the country, adjusting workforce skills to be fit for the future, and to set out how he intends to project Conservative policies even in light of Covid-19.

You can view the full agenda here.

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