Conservative party conference

Build Back Boris!

As a clarion call, a sounding of hosannas, a piece of fiery rhetoric to hold puissance over the soul of the nation, ‘Build Back Better’ is a raspberry. It is a stock that will never sell, a verbal wreck. It lacks zing and pep and, above all, Boris. If Lenin had disembarked from his sealed train and told the frenzied crowds that he would ‘Build Back Better’, they would have packed him back to the Huns. Having said that, there were times yesterday when Boris riffed on the theme and seemed a bit more himself. ‘Build Back Beaver,’ he said. (Was Carrie backstage?) And even ‘Build Back Burger,’ which sounded

The true enemy of political interviews

The rhythm of the big party conference leader interviews is a strange one. First come days of slow, repetitive, detailed preparation, much of which we know will be junked on the day. My brilliant team play Keir Starmer or Boris Johnson, being as cheerily obstructive, long-winded and deflecting as possible, until all of us could repeat the key facts and graphs and quotes in our sleep. Next, a frantic early Sunday morning (up well before five) to fillet the latest news, discarding what had been favourite questions and lines of attack, and boil everything down to a manageable size. By now my heart rate is rising and I’m eating more

The powerlessness of Priti Patel

It is hard not to feel sorry for Priti Patel. She would surely have been a Tory conference darling at the gathering that never happened back in autumn 2020 at the height of the pandemic. Back then she always came towards the top of cabinet ministers’ popularity in the monthly survey conducted by the Conservative Home website. But this year the Home Secretary’s ratings have dropped like a stone. She currently sits in 29th place, staring up in envy at such magnetic figures as Alok Sharma and Alister Jack and without even the comfort of knowing that there is always Gavin Williamson to look down on. In the mini-hall being used

Isabel Hardman

The contradictory Tory home working jibes

Why have ministers become so obsessed with where people are doing their work? The war on working from home has become one of the key themes of this Conservative party conference. Senior figures and backbenchers alike have launched attacks on those who are continuing to work remotely rather than returning to the traditional office set-up. At the start of the conference, former minister Jake Berry joked that ‘We have to end the Civil Service “woke-ing” from home — sorry, I mean working from home — but, let’s be honest, it often is “woke-ing”.’ This morning, Boris Johnson warned younger people that their colleagues would ‘gossip’ about them and they would

Nick Cohen

The fantasy world of Boris Johnson

In One Thousand and One Nights, Scheherazade must begin a new story every evening. She must make sure that the sultan is so eager to hear its conclusion he postpones his plans to execute her. On they go, month after month, year after year, a different story every day. I want you to imagine Boris Johnson as Scheherazade. He is taking the stage at the Conservative party conference dressed in diaphanous silk harem pants, a velvet top with chiffon sleeves, a veil to hide his true expression, and with pearls taken from the jewellery collection of a Russian oligarch’s wife laced through his hair. Johnson, too, knows he must come up with

Kate Andrews

Sunak warns of hardship

When Rishi Sunak was appointed Chancellor in February, he must never have imagined that his first address to the Conservative party conference would be made to an empty room. Nor would he have expected to have his entire speech dominated by a pandemic. Yet in his short, direct address, Sunak barely strayed from Covid-19. He reminded the public of the government’s vast interventions to curb the impact of the virus — and hinted at what steps might be taken in future as the Treasury deals with the aftermath of our six month spending spree. In a run-down of the many schemes — and billions of pounds — directed towards the crisis so

Sunak’s Peloton Toryism

Rishi Sunak is well-known for being a fan of swanky fitness company Peloton, so perhaps it was fitting that the introductory video for the Chancellor’s speech at the Tory conference felt rather like a spinning class. Parts of his address to the packed (albeit small) hall bore more than a passing resemblance to the spinning classes too, with Sunak opening by saying he’d do ‘whatever it takes’ to protect people’s livelihoods, and later telling the class, sorry, hall, that ‘just at the moment when it feels like we’ve done enough, that we’ve gotten through, that we can take a rest, we must not stop‘. His conservatism isn’t the same as

Will Leave voters forgive a Brexit delay?

‘It is definitely less than 50 per cent,’ says one Downing Street source when asked about the chances of a Brexit deal. And this is one of the optimists. One cabinet minister warns that the UK ‘is driving into a brick wall’ with its current Brexit proposals; other ministers are not sure if this offer is designed to make a deal or just to make the point that London was prepared to compromise but Brussels refused to budge. So it’s a stand-off. Boris Johnson is determined to take the whole of the UK out of the customs union, and the Irish and the EU are equally robust in their view

Portrait of the week: Tory conference, John Lewis cuts jobs and Duchess of Sussex sues

Home Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, presented the EU with a proposed withdrawal agreement. It entailed Northern Ireland remaining for a large part in the EU single market, along with Ireland, until January 2025, with the European Court retaining jurisdiction during that time. After that, the Northern Ireland Assembly would be able to choose whether to remain in the single market. In the meantime, there would be a border with Great Britain in the Irish Sea and, with none of the United Kingdom in the customs union, another, invisible border with Ireland, with checks made away from the border on goods in transit. Dominic Cummings said: ‘If they reject our

Boris Johnson’s conference speech will be quickly overshadowed

In a lengthy interview on the Today programme this morning, Boris Johnson denied that the UK’s plans for the Irish border will require checks a few miles from the border. When asked if the UK was proposing a ‘hard border’ a few miles in from the border, he said ‘absolutely not’. But he did say that it is ‘just the reality’ that there will have to be checks somewhere.  Given that Ireland and the EU have made checks anywhere on the island of Ireland a red line, there is going to have to be movement from one side or the other if there is to be a deal. Boris Johnson

Tom Goodenough

Jacob Rees-Mogg’s message to Brexiteers: you can trust Boris

Could the EU ride to Boris Johnson’s rescue over the coming weeks, not by offering a new Brexit deal but by ruling out an extension altogether? It would certainly be one way for the government to get around the Benn Act, which requires the Prime Minister to request an extension if he doesn’t get a deal by 19 October but doesn’t dictate what the EU will say in response. The Prime Minister suggested this morning that a refusal to grant an extension could be what the government is hoping for, telling the EU on the Today programme: ‘I think it would be a mistake to keep the UK bound in

Listen: Dominic Grieve and Philip Hammond booed at Brexit event

Mark Francois, Arlene Foster and John Redwood have just taken part in a panel discussion on Brexit at Manchester’s Comedy Club (where else?). Francois quoted Robert Frost’s poetry as he made his plea to the audience that he wanted ‘to live in a free country’ outside the EU. It won’t come as much of a surprise that there was no love lost for Brussels’ bureaucrats at the event, but there was a bigger bogeyman in the audience: Francois’s former Tory party colleagues. The Tory Brexiteer and self-declared ‘Spartan’ reeled off a list of names of those who he said would never support Britain leaving the EU. Among a group of


Ben Bradley: Tories are locked in Corbyn’s car

Ben Bradley is full of optimism about the Tory party’s future. ‘This could be the best thing since Mrs T’, he said at a Blue Collar Conservatism fringe event last night. Bradley said the government’s plans to splash the cash on police officers and hospitals would go down particularly well with voters. But he was somewhat less rosy about the current situation: ‘Unfortunately we find ourselves in the parliamentary situation where we are locked in the boot of Jeremy Corbyn’s car. We were in handcuffs, we were unconscious. But we’re figuring it out. We’re going to pick the lock. We’ll break free and post the 31 October, we’ve got some

Cindy Yu

Has Rishi Sunak revealed the government’s plan for HS2?

One of Boris Johnson’s first acts as Prime Minister was to announce a review of HS2. With a panel of critics and supporters, the review has so far conducted its work quietly, with little sign of what its final assessment will be. But at a Conservative party fringe event last night, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Rishi Sunak gave a hint to where the government’s own sympathies may lie. Tackling a question on HS2, he made a clear distinction between phase 1 from London to Birmingham – ‘the bit that’s causing all the controversy at the moment’ – and phase 2b – which would take the route from Birmingham into

Tories get another rude welcoming in Manchester

When the Tories last came to Manchester for their party conference, delegates were greeted by a ‘Hang the Tories’ protest banner. Mr S is sad to report that the welcome this time from some is not any friendlier. ‘130,000 killed under Tory rule. Time to level the playing field’, declares a banner in Salford above two effigies of hanging figures: Will those who condemned Boris Johnson for his language in parliament this week also speak out about this?


Watch: Jacob Rees-Mogg’s revealing summary of the state of British politics

Jacob Rees-Mogg has just given a pretty accurate summary of the state of British politics. The leader of the House of Commons pulled no punches as he addressed the Tory faithful at party conference. Mogg said Corbyn is a ‘weak man’, likened shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer to Brutus and said the Lib Dems were ‘extremists’ over their Brexit stance. Still, at least Mogg did have some kind words to say about one politician: his sister, Annunziata: Like Gulliver tied down at Lilliput, we are tied down by a ragtag, motley collection of feeble, fickle, footling politicians. All in desperate pursuit of a single ignoble aim – to renege on


‘Tories not welcome here’: Pictures from the anti-Tory rally

Boris Johnson came in for criticism last week for his language in Parliament, but are his critics any better? Mr S headed down to a protest in Manchester timed for the start of Tory party conference to find out. It was mostly good natured, with clowns banging drums, a Boris blimp and a decent turn out despite the miserable weather. But some of those demonstrating certainly had ruder words than ‘humbug’ on their placards.


Dominic Grieve’s surprise turn at Tory conference

What does a Tory rebel do after they have had the Conservative whip withdrawn and then voted against the Tories having a conference recess? Go to Conservative party conference of course. Dominic Grieve has caused a stir this evening at the party’s annual meet in Manchester. The former Conservative MP – who has said he would bring down the government to prevent a no-deal Brexit – made a surprise appearance at the Tory Reform Group’s One Nation Conservative reception. Among this group of pro-EU Tories, Grieve received close to a hero’s welcome – with many attendees thanking him for his efforts to prevent no deal. However, Mr S understands that he

James Forsyth

Arlene Foster: I’ll look at a time limit on the backstop

At a Policy Exchange fringe meeting at Tory conference, Arlene Foster has just ruled out any regulatory checks between Northern Ireland and Great Britain that extend beyond agriculture, eliminating one of the possible Brexit compromises. She did say that she’d be prepared to consider a time limit on the backstop. But she thought that Leo Varadkar wouldn’t even be prepared to entertain this. Foster made clear that she could never accept a customs border within the United Kingdom. She argued that would be unacceptable on both constitutional and economic grounds, highlighting that Northern Ireland does far more trade with Great Britain than it does with the Republic of Ireland. She