Hard-left rentamob scumbags aren’t on the whole outdoorsy types, so it was lucky for them that the weather on Sunday was nice when they convened outside the ICC in Birmingham to scream gentler, kinder abuse at delegates arriving for the Conservative Party conference.
The weather was nice for Stop Brexit Man, whose sound system endlessly looped the Benny Hill theme, which you couldn’t hear anywhere inside the conference venue but drove a lot of innocent policemen and security guards to distraction. It was nice for the tag team of street preachers blasting the irrefutable supposition ‘YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW ANGRY DRAG QUEEN STORY TIME MAKES A HOLY GOD’ at the paganish Tories, in competition with its incongruous Yackety Sax accompaniment.
The salmagundi of comedy, chaos and moderate threat didn’t stop as you passed through security. ‘Getting Britain Moving’ was the typically trite slogan but ‘Ha ha ha we’re f****ed’ would have done well too. Attending this year’s Tory conference was a Fort Myers-tier exercise in disaster tourism.
The baleful, debris-strewn aftermath of the mini-budget dominated. Despite having put in place a crony Cabinet that Pope Alexander VI might have thought leant excessively towards nepotism, Liz Truss’s ministers spent the first day of conference slagging off the PM, the Chancellor, all their other colleagues for slagging off the PM and the Chancellor, and presumably –in the quiet of despairing rooms in the Hyatt International– themselves for having assisted in putting Truss in charge.
At least the Tory footsoldiers, on the whole, approved of cutting the top rate of tax, even if the question of ‘why do it now?’ displaced the poser about God’s attitude to men dressed as ladies from any top ten of unfathomable things to which they had recently turned their minds. Here, though, was a PM who told us she would cut taxes actually cutting taxes, even if it meant taking a lot of flak for doing it.
That, anyway, was the position when they swayed out of the conference bar on Sunday night. Turning on Travelodge tellies as they rubbed their eyes next morning, Tories learned that after a fantastic ding-dong with Kwasi late on Sunday night, the PM had bottled it. After sustaining appalling political damage for doing the right thing with Gordon Brown’s top-rate booby trap, Truss walked right back and re-set it to damage the party all over again at some point in the future.
This was bananas. Out of forty-five billion pounds’ worth of unfunded tax cuts in the mini-budget (the wisdom of which you might well question), abolishing the higher rate accounted for just two. The markets had stabilised and were recovering already. And worse was the effect on Truss’s own brand. The mini-budget was intended to show that here, at last, was a REAL TORY who meant it about cutting taxes and regulation. A second Iron Lady who would take on the vested interests and public sector blob: who would stick by her principles and never be for turning.
Instead –as her domestic and international opponents will have been delighted to learn– when exposed to serious heat, the Iron Lady is a melt.
The Prime Minister’s own speech was nowhere near as bad –and we’re talking Theresa May in 2017 bad– as it needed to be to pitch the party into some Burundian coup. This doesn’t mean that it was perfect. Truss had taken precautions against her predecessor’s misfortune of letters tumbling autumnally from a trite conference slogan, by having the trite slogan projected onto a blue screen behind her. This, as the party’s tech guys either should have known or did know, facilitated the makers of memes in projecting anything they preferred (burning buildings, Hieronymus Bosch visions of Hell, Fort Myers etc.) onto the background instead.
Also like Theresa May in 2017, Truss had hecklers to deal with. This time, though, Truss’s friends might as well have paid Greenpeace to heckle her because it gave the PM a rare opportunity to appear human. She handled the intervention well, and got back into the speech with something that wasn’t exactly pizazz but wasn’t cheese disgrace/ pork futures/ jury still out on whether or not France is the enemy either.
Her themes were popular with her audience. By the end of the year, she vowed to the surprise of lawyers in the hall, ‘all EU red tape will be consigned to history’.
Wait, what? Really? All of it? There are more than fifty thousand regulations which derive from EU law, and they were all brought directly onto the UK statute book after Brexit. So, in one sense, all EU red tape already is history: it’s beautiful British red, white and blue tape now.
And you’d imagine that even in Liz Truss’s best of all possible regulatory environments, there will still be one or two laws restraining you from causing small children to operate unguarded machine lathes; selling poisonous food; discharging raw sewage into the ladies’ bathing pond on Hampstead Heath; or operating an unlicensed nuclear reactor.
Truss pitched herself as being on the side of growth; even pies, though famously inanimate, will grow endogenously under her leadership. Her opponents, meanwhile, are the ‘anti-growth coalition’, a conspiracy that includes the Labour Party, whose leader in his conference speech last week identified his goals for the country as ‘Growth, growth, growth.’ Truss pointed out the stark difference between Starmer’s declinism and her own priorities: ‘Growth, growth, growth.’
Delegates gave their new leader the customary standing ovation, and looked a bit happier as they left the hall. Not for long: outside, the weather had broken spectacularly and a hard rain had started to fall.
Tories slipped on leaflets that scudded round the square as they dashed, soaked through, to their hotels and their cars (not trains; the anti-growth coalition having come out on a rail strike to inconvenience them). The scumbags, preachers, even Stop Brexit Man had disappeared like the summer’s last swallows. For the Conservative Party, it feels already that winter is coming.