When preparations began for this year’s Conservative Party conference, what caught the eye the most Boris johnson and his senior advisers were research suggesting that voters feel the country is paralyzed, that the pandemic has lost valuable time, and that everything else is paralyzed.
Above all, Johnson’s goal for the conference will be to try to shake off that sense of inertia. He will characterize himself as the prime minister of delivery, even if his own MPs complain that there has been very little delivery so far.
To symbolize that idea, he will take the stage of the Conservative conference next Wednesday in Manchester, literally surrounded by his ministers and party members. Reminiscent of an ancient Greek theater, the staging will be almost entirely in the round.
In addition to the ubiquitous “build back better,” the conservatives’ other slogan at the conference will be “get on with the job.”
Johnson is famous for writing his last minute speeches. But sources said they would acknowledge that the pandemic has exposed serious weaknesses in society that had been allowed to persist for too long.
its plan to address welfareAlthough highly criticized, it will be seen as a measure to address that problem. There will be announcements that some pandemic support programs could become permanent fixtures, such as volunteer programs or school tutoring.
His opponent Keir Starmer used his conference speech last week to frame Johnson as trivial. But the prime minister will present himself as someone who doesn’t wobble like a shopping cart, as his adviser-turned-nemesis Dominic Cummings put it, but is prepared to make tough decisions.
That was the way he framed it when he told the country that he would increase national insurance to pay for the NHS arrears and review funding for social care.
Johnson will reformulate his party as a conservative government like no other, one that is “activist” and believes in the power of the state. Leveling up requires intervention, you will say.
“It will be about three things: first, developing the vision of leveling up and a centerpiece around that. Then a series of post-Covid policies that show the country is getting back to normal, pushing the ‘rebuild better’ slogan with a sense of immediacy. The third thing is ‘unfolding Boris’, in contrast to Starmer on how he can connect emotionally with the public, “said Giles Kenningham, founder of Trafalgar Strategy, former 10th press secretary and communications director for the Conservative party.
For the party, a sign of the prime minister’s renewed focus on the value of surrender was his reorganization, where he promoted Nadhim Zahawi, the face of the vaccine program. This is Johnson’s favorite example of delivery that exceeds expectations, combining the ingenuity of the private sector with the power of the state.
After his reorganization, Johnson flew to New York and Washington, where he exuded his usual boosterism, ignoring Britain’s food and fuel shortages as the short-term effects of a rebound in the world economy. The “guy lines are hitting Gulliver,” he told reporters on the way.
However, events have a way of intervening. His advisers had hoped for a return to “politics as usual” after the pandemic crisis, but just days after landing in London, the prime minister was taking the extraordinary step of ordering the army to help distribute gasoline.
Ministers are confident that fuel supplies are beginning to flow slowly again. But Johnson’s fall appears to be almost as difficult as the last. Energy bills are increasing, the license has ended, claimants will see cuts in universal credit and The NHS is expected to be affected by Covid and winter flu.
Parliamentarians tend to think in “crisis cycles”, which is why queues at the pumps are particularly looming over the conference. “If a crisis lasts four or five days, people will blame the hype in the media or each other, but if it is more than that, they will think: why can’t the government control it?” one predicted.
Robert Halfon, a senior Conservative MP, said his feeling was that voters seemed to be blaming the media rather than the government for now, although there would still be nervousness at the party conference during the coming winter.
“I think the mood will be a mixed bag,” he said. “It is the first proper conference since the elections. You shouldn’t underestimate Boris’s abilities to cheer people up and make them happy again, which he does very well. So I think most people will be hopeful, but there will be a bit of apprehension because they will be worried about the economy and the cost of living, how are we going to get out of this. “
He suggested that the prime minister take an “informal chat” approach – level with the public in the sense that “it’s going to be tough for the next 18 months to two years” as the economy gets back on track after Covid, but then presents a “roadmap” for reducing the cost of living after that. “Then the public will feel like it won’t go on forever,” Halfon said.
A former cabinet minister described his colleagues as “very grumpy”, and some leaders privately complained that they are ashamed to have to defend the government.
“It is a complete disaster. There is no leadership. Very, very few of them can have a stagnation, “said the MP, citing supply shortages and increased national insurance. However, they suggested that voters had yet to fall in love with the prime minister. “It will take time. You still get the benefit of the doubt and people still love theater.”
Few in the party are reassured by the solutions offered on the HGV driver shortage, and fear that the three-month visa for carriers and poultry workers will leave a cliff before Christmas. “It suggests that you don’t know how to handle this. Nothing has been suggested to me that something will be different in three months when it takes six months to train people, ”said a senior deputy.
There is also an important wing of the party who, like Johnson, believes that the balance must fundamentally shift after Brexit towards higher wages for British workers, even if the transition is painful.
The other key issue is the desire of parliamentarians to see tangible commitments to level up. “Boris’s speech in the summer it did not land ”, said one.
The appointment of Michael Gove to the recently renamed Department of Home Improvement, Housing and Communities signaled a desire to get the idea done, but many MPs remain unclear on what it really is.
No fewer than 20 fringe events at the conference are devoted to examining the concept of leveling up, and one asks, “What does it really mean?” Other outsiders are looking at the identity crisis of traditional conservatism, and the Prime Minister’s wife, Carrie Johnson, shows up at a reception with drinks to give a speech on the importance of LGBT + rights in association with Stonewall, which has been at odds with some ministers as part of “culture wars. “
Before the recess, MPs met with Rishi Sunak to receive information on the economic climate in preparation for this month’s budget. Many were punished. Sunak has warned that more expenses may have to be paid with another income tax increase.
A “red wall” deputy said it was necessary to loosen the neck for workers on the budget and several have called for a reduction in commercial rates to help boost Main Street. Another said he would like to see a reduction in VAT, something Sunak will likely resist.
There is also nervousness at the top of the party about what Sunak will say at the conference, particularly since he and his assistants have kept their cards close to their chests even with the number 10.
Cabinet ministers, some of whom are getting acquainted with the new departments, know that the next six months will be difficult, but they also believe that the public will give them some leeway.
“The truth is that the economy is very distorted,” said one. “We are about to see a million people leave the license, we do not know how the food shortage will develop. By February, the public will be more prepared to make an assessment of how the government has handled this. Which is lucky for Boris [this] week.”
The Conservatives conference always follows Labor, and MPs have been closely watching Starmer’s performance in Brighton to see if they should be concerned about the threat from Labor. So far they are not. “It does not seem that he has blown the doors of anything: I think that is the general view,” said a deputy of the intake of 2019.
One theme that brought together all the Conservatives who spoke before the conference was that they hope Johnson will not call a general election, even though his allies reported that his new team was chosen to be ready for the election.
Tory’s new president, Oliver Dowden, is more cautious, telling his team that “you can’t get a pig on market day,” a phrase first given to Tory’s aides by the election guru. , Sir Lynton Crosby. But the party has put out a job advertisement for a large number of campaign managers, with a special requirement that they “represent the diversity of our voters.” But the main obstacle to an early election is a major one: the voters. “Can you imagine if we called elections in May? [after a tough winter and further energy price rises]? They would kill us, ”said a deputy.