First featured in PR Week, October 2015
I first attended the Conservative Party Conference in 1989 and, even in the twilight years of Mrs Thatcher’s tenure, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything quite like what I saw waiting at the gates of the secure zone in Manchester this year, writes Mark Gallagher of Pagefield.
This is a conference that will be remembered less for what was said in the majestic Manchester Central Convention Complex (formerly known as Gmex) or for what has been said on the notably energetic fringe – but instead for the bile and hatred of a small number of those on the extreme left who have done so much to undermine their cause over the past 24 hours.
It doesn’t matter who you are or who you are representing here, you won’t have to have gone far outside the Midland Hotel today to be labelled ‘Tory scum’. Despite the largely harmless nature of most of the protesters, the aggression of some has been a little alarming – particularly in light of Greater Manchester Police operating something of a work-to-rule policy, leaving a number of delegates to run the gauntlet unprotected. Perhaps it is an act of protest from the bobbies who are facing some budgetary tough love from those inside the secure zone?
Anarchists aside, the topic dominating everyone’s client dinners this evening will be the almighty Osborne. The Chancellor was on manoeuvres once more this lunchtime with a wide-ranging speech in his adopted city, producing a genuine conference rabbit-out-of-the-hat with the appointment of Andrew Adonis to head up the National Infrastructure Commission. The question on all delegates lips is: can anyone stop the man who is already PM in all but name? The Osborne juggernaut seems unstoppable right now.
There’s no doubt in my mind that this is the busiest Party Conference I’ve been to in many, many years – and perhaps one where the level of debate is at its highest quality. The overwhelming majority of fringe events, whether on housing or health, Europe or economics, are standing-room only. The mood is generally upbeat among both members and corporates – something that stands in stark contrast to last week’s frankly bizarre gathering of the Labour Party in Brighton. The rise of Corbyn has not delivered the much-hypothesised air of complacency within the Tories; they seem as motivated and engaged with the issues as I can remember.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Conservative Party Conference without some grumblings over the leadership and the party’s position on Europe. As the jostling for position in the phoney war for the leadership ratchets up another notch, the worst-kept secret in Manchester this week has been Boris’ ponderings over whether to lead the ‘out’ campaign. Despite a famous victory in May for the Conservatives, it is clear that a gap remains between the leadership and the membership of the party over Europe. With the issue quietly bubbling away under a seemingly harmonious surface, the PM needs to deliver a barnstorming speech on Wednesday to send the faithful home happy.