The Conservatives head to Manchester for an unconventional party conference. After opposition MPs vetoed plans for a conference recess, the Tories will meet while parliament sits. No 10 is bullish that it will not let opposition MPs ruin its moment. Expect cars and helicopters on standby to ferry politicians at the last minute if a surprise vote is called.
With a working majority in the region of -40, Conservative MPs are fairly sanguine about the practicalities. ‘Frankly, it doesn’t matter if we are in London or Manchester. We can’t win votes even if we are all in Westminster,’ says one cabinet minister. Ministers and MPs are determined to use the conference to set out their agenda ahead of an early election that they still expect to take place this year.
So, what do they want to use the event to say? As I write in the i paper, the Tories hope to look beyond Brexit at this year’s event. The slogan for the event is ‘Get Brexit Done’. They wish to push opportunities post-Brexit – talking about domestic issues but making clear Brexit must be delivered first. This will focus on previously outlined core areas – law and order, the NHS, education – along with a push on environmental issues.
On Wednesday, government aides were summoned to 10 Downing Street where they were given a presentation on general election tactics by the new CCHQ political director Isaac Levido. The message they hope to push is that Boris Johnson is the only person who can deliver Brexit and Brexit needs to be delivered in order for the country to move on to a brighter future. Internal polling has found that when it comes to delivering Brexit, the majority now want it done not because of any specific benefits they expect as a result, but because if it’s done they can talk about other things. This ties in with a push on domestic opportunities post-Brexit.
Although there have been a slew of negative headlines this week about Boris Johnson along with many bad tempered scenes in the Commons, inside No 10 the mood is one of confidence. At political cabinet this week, ministers were supportive of the Prime Minister (with Nicky Morgan the closest to a voice of criticism over Johnson’s language in the Chamber) and Johnson’s inner circle believe that politically they are on the right track. Despite criticism from opposition MPs, they plan to keep using phrases such as ‘the surrender bill’ to describe the anti-no-deal legislation. Ministers have been told it has cut through with voters.
While the Supreme Court ruling has caused many practical problems for Johnson, government figures still believe it can be pushed to fit into a people vs Parliament narrative. One minister feels chipper. ‘We are not apologising for trying to deliver Brexit,’ they say, ‘That’s the message voters want to hear.’