A postcard from the Tory conference

by Dave Roberts

I have been attending Tory conferences for the past 10 years (in a professional capacity you understand) and have to make the shameful admission that I generally have a pretty good time. The thing about the Tory conference, is that it doesn’t pretend to be anything apart from a jolly get together where activists can spend a few days talking politics, catching up with friends and listening to their favourite MPs and leaders make barn storming speeches.

Yet this year I found the whole affair a little lack lustre. There were the normal fringe meetings where the Tory right could sound off about the EU, fishing rights, immigration, the general demise of traditional standards and the moral decline of our youth. But there was a general lack of zip in the proceedings in the main hall, bars and fringe.

Boris Johnson gave a speech that rambled along, but gave the activists something to smile about and their love affair with him continues. George Osborne gave a dull speech that hardly stirred the audience out of their torpor until he attacked workers rights. Theresa May did manage to get the audience’s attention with her now infamous tale about the rights of cats. But poor old Andrew Lansley spoke to a half empty hall on what is supposed to be the Tories great love and great reform, the NHS.

And then the great finale saw David Cameron plod through his keynote address like a man wading through blancmange. His calls for unity of purpose in tackling the economic woes of the country, in order to take us towards a free market Tory utopia, just didn’t seem to inspire the activists. To be fair it is hard to be upbeat against a back drop of cuts, unemployment and a stagnating economy.

And yet there were some notable highlights. The sight of overdressed men and women on Sunday night in the Midland hotel, who looked for all the world like they were heading towards a small town mayor’s reception or the annual bowls club dinner rather than reflecting modern Britain. There was the security guard who relented about letting me back into the conference hotel after midnight when he realised I wasn’t actually a Tory. And a kebab shop keeper who checked that a well-known journalist wasn’t a Tory before he agreed to serve him. And then there was the strange and disconcerting sight at an IDS fringe meeting of a Tory wearing sandals with his suit.

I breakfasted on eggs Benedict and a terrific discussion with a young Tory who was intelligent, forthright and committed. Our debate was brilliant, stimulating and conducted in the proper spirit of political discourse. It’s discussions like this that make Tory conference bearable. I totally disagree with almost everything the party stands for, but at least they have an intelligent, instinctive and honest approach to politics, which makes debating with them always challenging, usually courteous and largely enjoyable. Debating with Lib Dem activists, on the other hand, is almost always painful, bad tempered and ends in a level of debate that is incoherent at best.

As always, the conference reminded me why I wasn’t a Tory. But it just about managed to be fun, even if there were no plots or campaigns to unseat a leader, only a few blunders and no real scandals

Dave Roberts is a Labour activist and director, Morgan Roberts Ltd.


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2 Responses to “A postcard from the Tory conference”

  1. swatantra says:

    Maybe IDS is turning into a Lib Dem. Was he wearing socks and chewing on his museli? The kebab merchant had a good deal of sense I thought.
    The Tories still have a blind spot over Europe and it will ultimately be the downfall of this Coalition.

  2. “Debating with Lib Dem activists, on the other hand, is almost always painful, bad tempered and ends in a level of debate that is incoherent at best.”

    Considering LibDems are left of the Tories and so closer to the Labour viewpoint it’s interesting that you find it difficult to debate with them – maybe because it’s effectively debating with yourself and you find your own arguments weak and lacking depth? 🙂

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