Conservative party conference: a tale of two Tories

Conservative party members and activists will be dusting off their blue ties for conference this weekend. With the Tories securing a majority in the Commons for the first time since 1992, conference is sure to be surrounded by an air of jubilation. David Cameron’s well-oiled PR machine will be in full throttle and he will be hoping this conference is a stage-managed exercise in demonstrating the Government’s successes to party members and the general public.

This year will mark Cameron’s 10th as party leader, those who have remained loyal to the Conservative party during their years in opposition will feel like the party is riding a wave of success. Osborne and Cameron will be working to ensure this is not just a peak for the party but a sustained climb that will ensure their electoral dominance for the foreseeable future. The path ahead is looking treacherous with numerous potential divides; namely the EU referendum, dissent from the right of the party, leadership challenges and increasing austerity measures. Cameron will need to appeal to swing voters and non-voters as well as the party faithful, whilst trying to present the party as a united force.

Cameron will need to tread carefully; over-confidence from an electoral victory and the chaos from Team Corbyn, could aggravate more resentment against the party and reinforce their image as “nasty” and out of touch. This is particularly pertinent considering that demonstrators are planning an anti-austerity march led by the TUC and People’s Assembly on Sunday. With Corbyn said to be attending these marches and the conference occurring in a city that holds no Tory MPs or councillors, the Conservatives will need to be on their guard. The protests are a very visual representation of the sense of unease across the UK in reaction to budget cuts and regional inequality. Cameron and Osborne will be trying to shift the spotlight onto the Government’s plans for regional devolution, redistribution of funding and the re-starting of infrastructure projects in the North. With the Autumn Statement scheduled in a month and further austerity cuts planned, public unease is likely to remain a huge challenge.

2015 has been a year of political shocks, with a trend for insurgency and a rising demand for authentic leaders. Whilst Corbyn-bashing is likely to provide much entertainment, the Conservative leadership will be very aware of the forces that have facilitated his rise from obscurity. As Osborne attempts to maintain the party’s hold on the centre, could the same forces on the right of the party subject him to the punishment that has been delivered to New Labour’s Blairites? Labour is currently a moving target, they could have a new leader in 18 months whilst the Conservatives could still be battling their own long-standing demons. Nothing is for certain and if the Dave & George show is to survive and prosper up to 2020 it will need to ensure it can be both successful and receptive.

5 things you need to know:

  1. Follow the leader – This week Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan indicated that a woman should take part in the Conservative leadership race. This sees her throwing her hat into the ring with the other speculative leadership candidates – George Osborne, Boris Johnson and Sajid Javid. This early indication from Morgan reflects her task in building up her credibility. As a long-time ally of George Osborne’s it could also be a tactical bid in securing herself a top job in the next cabinet.
  2. Should we stay or should we go– The EU Referendum and the uncertainty around negotiations, timing and the rules of the campaign will be a hot topic at conference. This could also have implications for the leadership campaigns, with George Osborne trying to sell the Government’s renegotiations and Boris Johnson potentially leading the “out” campaign; their fates could be tied to this highly divisive debate.
  3. Corbyn bashing – The Tories will be aiming to exploit the ruptures in the Labour party and de-legitimise Corbyn’s new shadow cabinet. They will be focussing on their commitment to defence, and tackling ISIL in Syria as well as reaffirming they are the party of economic credibility.
  4. A political missile? – The renewal of Trident is now a vocal and divisive debate in the Labour Party. The Conservatives could use their position in Government to bring forward an early vote and really stir up a problem for Corbyn and his colleagues.
  5. Policy announcements – Expect some glossy policy announcements from the Conservatives. The Tory fringe agenda is frequented by debates on low pay, job insecurity and rebalancing the economy. The Chancellor’s renewed interest in populist left-wing causes is likely to continue, with policy announcements that will aim to squeeze Labour to the margin of debates and cement the Conservatives in the central ground.

Lauren Roden

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