The Conservatives are gathering in Manchester for their annual conference. Here’s what to expect:
1) SECURITY, SECURITY, SECURITY...
The central message is that the party is that a Conservative Government is the only party to be trusted on national, economic and family security. Credibility in these areas and a track record of success will be the basis of most ministers speeches. Like a political drip feed, the party are expert at slowly and surely sticking to a single message and repeating it until it’s stuck in the nation’s head. They also hit the ground running with a plan to double the number of drones as part of their counter terrorism strategy.
And since this is the Government after all, there’ll be far more physical security in place. Expect plenty of chaps with earpieces and scanners and miles of metal barriers.
Unsurprisingly the Conservative party have been throwing out policy...well...like there’s an upcoming Autumn conference. We’ve had an announcement of grandparent leave, which is when mums, dads and grandparents can all take a portion of time off work to care for a new baby. This could be good for single mums, who can share the leave with one of their own parents rather than a partner. There’s fresh commitment to seven day GP care by 2020 and seven day hospital services for half the country by 2018. There’s new rules too on blocking what they call ‘militant’ left-wing councils from using their procurement and pension capabilities to avoid UK defence and Israeli firms.
3) HIGH SPIRITS
They’ve only got a majority of 12 but that won’t stop the party from declaring this is the most positive and fantastic conference for years. There’ll be much talk from MPs on the great atmosphere and high spirits. There will be no bashing of Jeremy Corbyn however, the party are on strict orders not to go personal however we can expect a lot of the Labour party as a whole being a threat to national, economic and family security. It will be interesting to see how those high spirits wane when Lord Ashcroft’s book is released, deliberatly early to coincide with the conference. And also when you ask them for their official membership figures. They’ll tell you about their vibrant youth wing, but it’s harder to get overall numbers.
It’s described as the dark cloud that hangs over every single Conservative conference, but with an upcoming referendum it’s more prescient than ever. There’s plenty of fringe events asking big questions about Europe and there’ll be much clamouring over minister and MPs speaking to see if there’s an obvious split in opinion from David Cameron. For the PM he needs to prove that talks are going well to renegotiate a deal, as he needs to bring something concrete to the table to hinge this referendum on.
5) SAMANTHA CAMERON
David Cameron has never been shy about parading his wife in front of the cameras and Samantha looks more than happy to join her husband for a picture perfect photo-call. We can expect another one of these, and much chatter about what SamCam is wearing. We’ve had far less of this carry on at the conferences this year. Jeremy Corbyn’s wife Laura Alvarez kept a low profile in Brighton, except when she accompanied him to the Mirror Party. Tim Farron, Lib Dem leader, was honoured however that his wife even turned up. She had never, ever been to a party conference before, and while dutifully sat in the front row, only posed for one official picture as a couple. There was certainly no getting up on stage.
6) NORTHERN POWERHOUSE
From the Prime Minister’s trip to New York to peddle the business opportunities within the Northern Powerhouse, to devolution in Sheffield and the re-electrification of the TransPennine and Midland Mainline rail lines, it’s been an incredible week of announcements for the North of England. With this firmly behind the Conservatives, they’ve positioned themselves to bat away any criticism that that the powerhouse is nothing but a flimsy concept with relative ease.
7) THE OUTSIDE...
An anti-austerity protest organised by the TUC and People’s Assembly is planned to coincide with the conference and Jeremy Corbyn is set to address the crowds at some point, somewhat distracting from the action inside, no doubt much to the annoyance of the Conservative party. Members have already been told not to wear their conference pass badges too obviously when they’re walking around the city centre to try and keep a low profile.
Sunday - speeches from Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, International Development Secretary Justine Greening.
Monday - speeches from Business Secretary Sajid David, Culture Secretary John Whittingdale and Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin and Chancellor George Osborne.
Tuesday - speeches from Justice Secretary Michael Gove and Home Secretary Theresa May. Boris Johnson and the party’s freshly announced mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith will also be a big draw for activists and the press.
Wednesday - Prime Minister David Cameron takes to the stage for his keynote address.