On Sunday, for the first time since 2019 and their election landslide, the Conservatives will gather together for their annual conference in Manchester. A lot has happened since then; a global pandemic, Brexit being – sort of – done and more recently a dramatic overhaul of Boris Johnson’s top team. Andrew McQuillan, a Consultant in the Pagefield team, picks out five key things to watch out for in the days ahead.
Teamwork makes the dream work
A Cabinet reshuffle always strikes fear and raises expectations simultaneously in Westminster and the Tories arrive in Manchester with a revamped set of Ministers. Out went struggling performers like Gavin Williamson and Robert Jenrick, in came Boris Johnson loyalists like Nadine Dorries, and there were significant elevations and demotions for the likes of Liz Truss and Dominic Raab respectively. With their eye on the next election, this is the team the Prime Minister believes will get him over the line. Expect lots of singing from the same hymn sheet from the main stage in Manchester.
Based on conversations in and around Westminster, you shouldn’t expect to see that many Tory MPs in Manchester. Those who are attending may not have got the memo about party unity; the fringe is likely to hear gripes about the Government’s COVID approach, the National Insurance rise and the purported menace of the “woke” and green agendas.
The Prime Minister’s levelling up ambitions seem to be the subject of almost every second fringe event and seminar at the conference, though with the absence of the much-vaunted white paper, there is precious little detail to scrutinise at length. Michael Gove, equipped with a new, turbocharged department, will be worth watching over the course of the week as he sets out his thoughts on what levelling up should be. An unusual guest in the form of Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, is also making a few appearances over the course of the week. Expect Tory feet to be held to the fire over HS2, Northern Powerhouse Rail and a few other keynote policies which seem to be stuck in the Treasury-led Whitehall quagmire.
Not much COP
From Manchester, all roads lead to Glasgow for the COP26 climate conference. Alongside levelling up, reaching net zero by 2050 will dominate discussion, though there is the small matter of how the Government intends to pay for all these new green policies. With the Treasury’s net zero review due prior to COP, expect lots of pitch rolling from Rishi Sunak, Kwasi Kwarteng and Alok Sharma and plenty of pushback from the usual recalcitrant right-wing suspects on the backbenches; the ERG need a new hobby horse, after all.
Don’t forget Brexit
Not that it ever went away, Brexit will be back with a vengeance this autumn. The Northern Irish protocol remains firmly in the crosshairs of not only the DUP but Lord Frost, the Brexit Minister, further proof of that old adage that in politics some things change, but everything remains the same. Manchester looks set to play host to some megaphone diplomacy.