#CPC2016: Brexit Domination and the Steady Hand of May

Prime Minister Theresa May (Image: Tom Evans, Number 10 Flickr)

The Worldly’s Harry Wilby reports on Sunday and Monday at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham

Following a rather troubled and marred Conservative conference in Manchester last year, the move to a previously favoured location – the Birmingham ICC – was seemingly welcomed throughout the party.

Although it would be somewhat erroneous and an incomplete conference resume not to refer the goings on within Symphony Hall, my aim in this initial report is not to regurgitate and analyse the various speeches that have been given over the past two days line by line, but rather to provide insight into what a Conservative government led by Theresa May will look like in the parliamentary session under her premiership.

A deep seated sentiment of triumph

Perhaps what has been most striking over the past couple of days is the sense of buoyancy throughout the ICC, from the multitude of ever ready and perhaps overly keen party activists adorned with tragically purchased party merchandise to those who currently hold office within the corridors of power, there is a deep seated sentiment of triumph. This can, in part, be attributed to the further fragmentation and, as some see, complete humiliation of the Labour Party as an effective and united opposition party over the past 18 months, but, most significantly the result of the Brexit vote is still prompting an unerring mood of optimism mixed with steely determination within the Conservative Party.

In true chameleon-esque modern Conservative style, those who had quietly yet noticeably been campaigning on the remain side seem to have all but shed their previous commitments to the European Union, and joined the rest of the party in looking forward. Those who campaigned so vigorously for Brexit however, most notably Daniel Hannan, have been hopping from hall to hall, beaming at the prospect of an increase in free trade and opportunity outside the perils of Brussels bureaucracy. Michael Gove, despite a relatively low key appearance has been noticeably under the radar, whilst David Cameron, the former prime minister who recently stepped down from his Oxfordshire seat, is another notable absentee. In essence, what the conference has made clear is that the previously visible fault lines within the Conservatives have been (at least publicly) put to bed and the focus is strictly looking forward together as one party – something for which May must be given a large amount of credit.

May, harangued by the media in recent weeks for her ambiguity and love of the phrase ‘Brexit means Brexit’, opened conference by announcing that Article 50 would be triggered by March 2017 and the process should be completed by Spring 2019, a date which this author feels is a tad optimistic given Greenland’s arduous three year exit process from a comparatively less complex European Union in the early 1980s.

Theresa May’s sure and steady hand has guided the party over the past few months amidst uncertain times

Amber Rudd, newly appointed London-born home secretary, during an interview with Matt Kirby of the Times Red Box, reaffirmed the cabinet’s commitment to one another and delivering the British people with an exit from the European Union that ensures the greatest possible deal. In addition, she claimed there  was to be no infighting from the campaigns prior the referendum. Rudd referred to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whose speech reiterated his predecessor’s commitment to tackling the deficit but also alluded to the added economic roller coaster that triggering Article 50 would bring over the course of exit negotiations, something which, despite previous widespread consensus across the house and throughout the academic world, will no doubt be front and centre of Tuesday morning’s tabloids.

In short, the first two days have been a confirmation of Theresa May’s sure and steady hand that has guided the party over the past few months amidst uncertain times. And whilst optimism is certainly still high within the Conservatives, key figureheads within the party have not become drunk in anticipation of exiting the European Union, with the acknowledgement of turbulent times ahead.


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