The Tories have tried to jazz up their conference hall this year, after accusations that the whole thing was becoming a bit robotic and boring. It’s fair to say that this has had mixed results. One of the exciting developments is the use of panel discussions between ministers, which is supposed to encourage greater audience participation. Members in the hall can submit questions using the conference app, and the panel then answer the most popular ones. This morning’s session with Housing and Planning Minister Esther McVey, Business Minister Nadhim Zahawi and Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry offered Tory activists a lively – and at times unintentionally unsettling – insight into their plans to build more homes and rejuvenate the high street.
McVey has quite an unusual turn of phrase, and in her enthusiasm to extol the virtues of modern pre-fab houses, ended up suggesting that the Tories were entering a new era in architecture where homes were 3D as opposed to entirely flat, and where architects now used computers, which must have come as a shock to RIBA. She told the hall that homes build off-site could now be done so to a high specification and with 80 per cent fewer defects than those built using traditional methods, adding:
‘Yes there will be traditional build and if we look at the workforce in traditional build a lot of them are in their sixties and younger people aren’t necessarily following into path, well we’ve got to get more people going into construction full stop. Well, if we have this new way of doing it, 3D architects, 3D visionaries doing it on a computer, there’s a whole new raft of jobs.’
This emphasis on building homes was different, she claimed, to the opposition. ‘While the Conservative party is building homes for the future, the only thing the Labour party is building is a Brexit fence to sit on!’
Berry, meanwhile, told the hall that ‘the only homes we are not going to build in the north of England is Sherlock Holmes!’. Boris Johnson, he claimed, somewhat alarmingly in the current political context ‘has personally gripped the Northern Powerhouse’.
He then accidentally ended up comparing public services to the ‘Death Star’ as he described them as a focus point for bus routes which meant that they should be located on high streets so that more public transport took people into the centres of towns. Berry has clearly been thinking hard about how to save the high street, which no matter how much a town is booming, can often make the centre look deeply depressed. His next, tougher, task will be to locate the flaw in the Death Star that’s stopping Tory delegates from staying awake.