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The Conservative Party Conference 2016

Last week I attended the annual Conservative Party Conference, which this year was held at Birmingham’s Hyatt Regency and the Birmingham ICC. This year’s event was never going to be “normal” because, let’s just say, there were a couple of elephants in the room. 

As always, the four-day long gathering of politicians and those wanting to network began on a Sunday; the star speech of the day being given by Theresa May. This came with a degree of rebellion against tradition – usually the Prime Minister only delivers their speech on the last day of the conference, to bring proceedings to a close. Mrs May gave a thought-provoking speech, outlining her plan to make Britain a country that works for everyone and not just those at the top, as well as describing her desire to make a success of “Brexit”.

Theresa May on the first day of CPC16
Theresa May on the first day of CPC16

So, what was the feeling amongst the crowd? Unity. Whilst the likes of Anna Soubry MP strive to create division within the party over leaving the EU, the vast majority of delegates are more than ready to get behind our new Prime Minister. Furthermore, they believe that she is the best person to successfully take Britain out of the European Union and then implement her vision of an independent and prosperous Britain. The Conservative Party can now be free of the posh, aristocratic and pretentious image that David Cameron encouraged. Under Theresa May, that the Conservative Party can now prove itself to be the party of the working and middle classes.

The conference also included many fringe events, one hosted by The Spectator entitled “Solving Poverty the Conservative Way”. This was an insightful and productive panel event that discussed some long-awaited ideas around tackling the issue of poverty. The issues covered by the panel were wide-ranging, spanning from grammar schools through to the benefits system.

Next, all of the frontbenchers, except the PM, took to the Symphony Hall’s stage in sessions of three ministers at a time. I had awaited the Tuesday afternoon session with Damian Green MP, Justine Greening MP and Jeremy Hunt MP with much enthusiasm. I was so excited at the sound of this lineup that I queued for over an hour, before doors opened, to bag myself a good seat. The main focal point of this session would be Jeremy Hunt’s speech. Other than Brexit, the NHS was certainly the second largest elephant in the room, mainly because of the debate surrounding junior doctors’ pay and working hours, and the fact it has rarely disappeared from our news feeds.

Jeremy Hunt on the NHS
Jeremy Hunt on the NHS

Hunt was introduced with a five-minute video interview. It portrayed him as an average Joe, with him talking about his home life, favourite politicians, favourite sport and the like. This video put into perspective that he’s a human – just like you or me and not some cold-hearted ogre as the junior doctors would lead us to believe. Hunt’s speech was impassioned and really showed that he cares about the NHS. He congratulated those who work long hours to save lives whilst maintaining that work still needs to be done to improve the patient experience. Sitting in my comfortable (almost) front-row seat, I realised that anyone who is given Secretary of State for Health is going to have a tough time. It’s a job that doesn’t please anyone. If he dares change consensus or common practice within the NHS to improve the patient experience he makes patients feel great. However, at the same time, he releases a mob of militant junior doctors and the BMA orders strike action, thus putting the lives of people in the United Kingdom at risk. Then again, if he gives a pay rise to the junior doctors they get greedy and keep striking. I do sympathise with our Health Secretary on this issue and believe he is doing what he believes is best for the NHS.

On the final day Mrs May laid out her intentions in full regarding the creation of a country, society and economy that works for everyone. I think it’s fantastic that we now have a PM who is working to help everyone and not just those at the top. Right-wing libertarians and hardcore conservatives? Well, they weren’t big fans. My original assumption of fresh unity was slightly dampened as a result of cries that Mrs May might as well have been a new Labour leader because she dared to reach out to the less well-off in society. I believe that David Cameron’s elitist attitude and disregard for the poor stopped many people joining the Conservative Party. So, to all of those within the party who are slating Theresa May, I have something for you to reflect on: the hatred towards the poor from Cameron didn’t work – why follow in his footsteps? Let’s not forget that the party needs to have the working class onside, in order to maximise the majority which the Conservatives hold in the Commons. Secondly, Mrs May’s attack on the libertarian right of the party was a bit of a shame. Classic liberalism, I believe, still has a part to play within the party and is a fundamental pillar of the conservative belief. Libertarianism advocates “laissez-faire” and is strictly opposed to the highly interventionist style of government Jeremy Corbyn would rule under. It is vital that whilst Conservatives appreciate the need for a government, anti-government sentiments should not be silenced. If they are the Conservatives will cease to be conservative in ideology.