Lewis Burns (He/Him)
Shortly after I sat through the coverage of the Conservative Party’s 2023 Party Conference in Manchester, I went out with a few friends to watch the new Saw film, and I couldn’t help but notice how different the two experiences were. One was a torturous horror-show of desperate morally-questionable people struggling to survive in the face of their imminent demise, and the other was, yeah, Saw X, great job, you got there first.
Serving less as a demonstration of a ruling party’s strength and electability, this year’s Tory conference was more an exercise in ducked questions, cruel scapegoating, and appeals to conspiracy.
The inevitable cancellation of the HS2 line from Birmingham to Manchester was the main focus, clinging to Rishi Sunak like an awkward face rash. In an age where countries such as Denmark and Sweden already have functional high-speed rail services, the United Kingdom can proudly proclaim itself as the European innovator by proposing a rail line, and then awkwardly backtracking because the country’s getting too close to their overdraft.
Weirdly enough, for a conference aiming to discuss how to address the UK’s struggling economy, the unprecedented decision to fracture ourselves from the world’s largest trading bloc was barely discussed. I can’t imagine why, it could be that Brexit was an economic catastrophe that has, among other gunshots to the foot, stagnated growth, reduced labour supply, and shrivelled investment, and that this was backed by those that are now leading the Conservative Party today, and that getting a Conservative government minister to own up to a mistake is as easy as levelling a skyscraper with a spoon.
Speaking of economic disasters, Liz Truss made an appearance. As part of her current ‘Not My Fault’ tour of blame-ridden speeches, she continued to insist she would’ve been a great PM if it weren’t for those bond investors unreasonably expecting their money back and not having faith in her borrowing-funded anarcho-capitalist experiment. In a sane world, Truss’ disastrous prime-ministership would void any economic and political advice she could provide, so, of course, the auditorium struggled to manage the flood of party-members desperate for her insight.
Speeches from government ministers all served to distract from the conservative’s complicity in the broken economy, but with unique flavours of shamelessness and cruelty. Transport Secretary Mark Harper used his speech to attack the ‘sinister’ framework of fifteen minute cities, tacitly endorsing the fringe conspiracy theory that paints the concept as an Orwellian police-state, rather than a measure to bring vital services closer than a fifteen walk away.
MP Claire Coutinho’s criticisms of Labour’s proposed meat-tax was met with flack, mainly due to the fact that Starmer has never proposed such a measure and it is not Labour policy. Countinho would go on to try to justify the lie, claiming “Starmer won’t tell us what he really thinks”, which apparently makes it an invitation to just make stuff up if it’s politically expedient.
But the toughest to watch was from the Home Secretary. Seemingly unsatisfied to just deem asylum-seekers as a “hurricane” of invaders and criminals, Braverman also decided to put the LGBT community in her crosshairs, leading to Andrew Boff, chair of London Assembly, getting physically removed from the speech for quietly deeming the speech transphobic.
Migrants and the LGBT community continue to be useful props for failing governments and opportune politicians seeking a distraction from their own incompetence. Gay folks aware of ancient history (forty years ago) will know of the Thatcher administration’s poor response to the AIDS crisis and Section 28, which banned local authorities from “promoting homosexuality”. Immigrants don’t even have to look back as far; Farage’s UKIP was less than ten years ago, and since then the myth of the benefits-seeking immigrant continues to permeate British political discourse like a stench.
If a party conference is supposed to effectively communicate to voters the policy positions and future direction of a party, I can’t really critisise the Tory conference for not doing just that. I’m definitely well-informed on how the UK government plans to address a cost-of-living crisis and potential recession. I’m just not certain if shallow populism, stocking fears of societal collapse, and just straight-up lying will be the best ways to go about it.