Conservative Party Conference is finally upon us, and it almost didn’t happen.
With last week’s momentous Supreme Court ruling against the Prime Minister, a vengeful Parliament subsequently refused to allow recess to take place and allow the conference to go ahead without conflicting with Parliamentary business. What had once been a consensual and straightforward affair has become – like so much else – wound up with Brexit and the dysfunction of a minority government trying to behave like a majority one.
Instead, the conference will go ahead while Parliament continues to sit. TheGovernment has tabled a number of non-contentious bills and debates, including on the Northern Ireland executive and the Domestic Abuse Bill. This supposedly will allow a skeleton Government to keep a presence in Parliament whilst allowing the majority of the party to be in Manchester for thefour day conference. That being said, opposition parties have already indicated that they are considering hijacking the business of the Commons to allow for more knife-edge decisions, including a debate on votes for 16 and 17 year olds.
The acrimony of the recalled Commons last week shows just how dark things are for MPs. In one of the bitterest Parliamentary sessions in recent memory, MPs stood up to talk about the threats they have received and to plead thePrime Minister to moderate his language even as he dismissed their concerns as ‘humbug’ and the bill to block no-deal Brexit as a ‘Surrender Act’.
Although the Labour Party Conference was launched amid a internecine row between moderates and Corbynites over Tom Watson and his Deputy Leader role, the spotlight is now to turn on Tories, many of whom have publicly and privately spoken out against the Prime Minister and his language. Coming hot on the heels of a mass expulsion of MPs from the Party – many of whom were widely liked amongst their colleagues – the unity of the Conservative Party has more than fissured.
Boris Johnson will be hoping that the Conference will be a moment of mass unity and public strength. A pre-election rally to raise spirits and remind voters who the natural party of Government is. Given the background to this conference, he will settle for just getting through unscathed.