As Manchester recovers from hosting a Conservative Party Conference defined by lies, culture wars and conspiracy theories, Right-Wing Watch looks at some of the maddest conference moments.
It’s always been baffling why the Conservative Party Conference is held in Manchester. It has to be one of the least Tory-friendly cities in the country, after Liverpool. Wouldn’t Tunbridge Wells or another Southern England heartland be more appropriate? This year especially, given Sunak’s scrapping of the HS2 rail line to Manchester.
If the Tories have faced frosty welcomes in the northern city before, their greeting was distinctly glacial this year, with the derailing of the ‘levelling up’ policies that Boris Johnson promised in a bid to woo northern voters. Insane timing really, when you think about it, as Sunak seeks to retain the so-called ‘red wall’ seats the Tories won from Labour in 2019.
But then there is nothing sane about current Conservatives. Perhaps the term ‘Madchester’ that defined the city’s music and cultural scene in the 1990s, should take on a new meaning… the 2023 Conservative Party Conference.
Such was its insanity that even the conservative press couldn’t resist having a pop. “Conference derailed?” was the header of the Spectator’s mailout, which focused on prominent Tory Andrew Boff being escorted from the conference hall after objecting to Suella Braverman’s comments on transgender issues during her speech.
As Manchester recovers from hosting a Conservative Party Conference defined by speeches littered with lies, culture war rhetoric and conspiracy theories, Right-Wing Watch looks at some of the maddest conference moments.
Keir Starmer flip-flops and other random items for sale
Desperate to divert from their own U-turns, flip-flops bearing Keir Starmer’s face were brandished about the conference centre. Greg Hands even went as far as to hold a pair of the branded footwear up during his conference speech, while insisting there is “no trust” in the Labour leader. Sadly, he held them the wrong way round – a flop flipping Starmer anyone?
“Who is the real Sir Keir Starmer?’ he asked rhetorically to anyone who was listening, which wasn’t many.
“The friend and supporter of Jeremy Corbyn? The puppet of Tony Blair? Or the mouthpiece of Just Stop Oil?
“All we do know is that he has broken every single leadership pledge and flip-flopped almost 60 times in just three years,” said Hands.
That’s a bit rich isn’t it, given that their party leader has recently committed some colossal climbdowns, the latest being HS2 and, just days earlier, Net Zero pledges. The PM was even quizzed about his penchant for U-turns during the traditional pre-conference TV interview. Questioned on BBC One’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg, Sunak said he was relaxed about taking office without an election and then dropping significant parts of the Tories’ 2019 manifesto.
But Starmer flip-flops weren’t the only random item for sale in the conference gift shop. In another cringey jibe at Labour, a deck of ‘Top Trumped by the Unions,’ playing cards was up for grabs, in reference, one assumes, to the party supposedly being ‘bankrolled by the trade unions.”
Memorabilia dedicated to former Tory leaders, most notably, Margaret Thatcher, was proudly displayed in the gift shop. Fans could pick up a ‘this lady’s not for turning’ apron, in reference to their idol’s famous speech. Or if they preferred, a Christmas jumper with ‘No, No, No.’ across their heroine’s face. No sign though of her 1975 jumper with its European flags. I wonder why.
Amusingly, Sunak memorabilia was in short supply.
Truss’ GB News-endorsing fringe event is a crowd pleaser
Talking about ladies’ ‘not being for turning,’ Liz Truss had her fair share of limelight hogging at CPC23. In fact, the former PM’s fringe event speech managed to pull in one of the biggest crowds of the whole conference. Almost a year to the day since her ill-fated tax cuts wreaked so much havoc on the markets for which we are still all paying the price, and Truss was back in front of an audience of the faithful, making more ‘axe the tax’ avowals.
Confirming the scale of divide among the party, Truss’ speech was just 90 minutes after the Chancellor’s, who delivered a distinctly different message. In Jeremy Hunt’s view, the Treasury must prioritise tackling inflation over reducing taxation.
In its analysis of the disgraced former PM’s speech, the FT notes how Truss’ rally highlights a rift between Sunak and the Tory right. The report describes how the activists in attendance had heard that a number of Tory MPs in Truss’s right-wing Growth Group, set to promote tax cuts and deregulation, had swelled to 60.
“It suggests that the group could threaten to defeat the government — if it acts as a bloc — in any forthcoming rows over legislation, neutering Sunak’s ability to manoeuvre,” the FT continued.
But the best (ironically speaking) part of the speech was when Britain’s shortest-serving former PM claimed that ‘we need more GB News.’
“We need more GB News, challenging the orthodoxy, broadcasting common sense, transforming our media landscape,” she told the audience.
I’m not sure that these Tories have any sense of timing because of course the comment was made despite the right-wing channel being embroiled in a huge scandal following Laurence Fox’s recent misogynistic rant. No sense of timing, or no sense of shame. Perhaps both?
And talking of no sense of shame, Nigel Farage was among the audience watching Truss’ speech. Following the address, the former UKIP leader said he backed Truss’ calls to slash corporation tax and on drilling for oil and gas. He also acknowledged what is now extensively agreed, that the Tory party has a debate raging over what it stands for.
Suella Braverman wages new war on woke
Another of the few speeches that managed to pull in a full-house was the Home Secretary’s. In it, Braverman warned of a ‘hurricane’ of immigration, and vowed only the Tories can stop ‘political correctness strangling Britain,’ leaving us in little doubt about the Tories’ drift to the far-right.
Green MP Caroline Lucas summed the speech up well: “(An) utterly repulsive speech by Suella Braverman referring to a “hurricane” of migration, as her dehumanising rhetoric plumbs to new depths. The hurricane I’d like to see is one which sweeps her culture war-stoking, dog-whistling, hard-right party from office.”
The speech also further confirmed just how divided the Tories are. A number of senior Tory MPs shared their objection to Braverman’s comments, accusing her of stoking the culture wars with ‘awful’ rhetoric on race and gender.
One minister said they were “concerned” about Braverman’s “hurricane” comments. In reference to the Home Secretary’s speech in the US, when she said “multiculturalism had failed,” and warned that illegal immigration poses an “existential threat” to the West, the minister added that it marked “an extension of the awful stuff from last week.”
“Part of me wonders if they’re giving her enough rope (for her position to become untenable),” the minister told i News.
Coffey’s ‘Bendy bananas’
Another headline grabbing speech (for all the wrong reasons) was made by the Environment Secretary, Therese Coffey. An EU regulation on bendy bananas will be dropped, the minister proudly proclaimed. “Bent or straight,” it is not for the government to decide “the shape of bananas you want to eat,” she told the Exchange Hall audience.
Coffey also called out the “green zealots” who want to make people eat “fake meat”, which she said might only be “OK” for “astronauts.” The Environment Secretary has previously attacked veganism and vegetarianism, despite the fact that animal agriculture is one of the most environmentally destructive industries in existence, driving biodiversity loss, pollution, and deforestation.
‘Meat tax’ and ’15-minute cities…’ speeches littered with lies and conspiracy theories
Meanwhile, Energy Secretary Claire Coutinho, a so-called Conservative ‘rising star,’ did her party little favours, chuntering on about the Tories’ bid to ‘stop’ a non-existent meat tax. In her speech, Coutinho accused Labour of taxing meat. However, the comments quickly backfired during an interview later that day when she was was caught lying about the non-existent meat tax.
Then there was Transport Secretary Mark Harper, who launched an attack on ’15-minute cities,’ saying we should not tolerate “the idea that local councils decide how often you go to the shops,” – echoing a conspiracy theory about the planning concept that has been widely debunked.
The string of misleading comments led to calls for tighter rules to stop MPs lying, amid criticism that there is a ‘dishonest epidemic infecting Tories,’ and that they are ‘embracing European fringe conspiracy theories.’
Even Sunak’s speech was littered with misleading claims. Fact-checkers Full Fact found the PM made three inaccurate claims in his leadership speech. His claim that Labour plans to cook up some deal with the EU which could see Britain accepting around 100,000 of Europe’s asylum seekers, was found to be inaccurate. As was his comment that the UK ‘now has a record number of police officers,’ and that one in five children have used vapes. It later emerged that Sunak has been reported to police in Scotland over comments he made about former first minister Nicola Sturgeon.
You really couldn’t make this stuff up.
Patel hits dancefloor with Farage
But perhaps the biggest horror of the conference was this…
Yes, the former home secretary and former UKIP leader hit the dancefloor, having a right old knees up and manic dad dancing to Frankie Valli’s Can’t Take My Eyes off You at the Hilton Hotel. Needless to say, the fist pumping clip went viral, and disturbed onlookers were quick to share their disbelief.
“When it comes to summing up what’s going on at the Conservative Party conference, phone footage of Priti Patel and Nigel Farage dancing and singing along to ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,’ would hardly be more on point,” wrote actor Nicholas Pegg.
As for Farage’s presence at this year’s Tory conference? Nobody knows why for sure. We can only speculate that it is because he’s looking at rejoining the party he quit 30 years ago in protest of at the Maastricht Treaty, a foundation treaty of the European Union (EU). We do know that he gained access to this year’s conference through a GB News commentator media pass.
The Daily Mail was quick to pounce on a potential Farage comeback.
“Nigel Farage says he COULD re-join the Tories if it becomes a ‘real’ right-wing party after he was feted by activists at conference,’ splashed the newspaper.
“The warmth of members towards Mr Farage has been noted by senior Conservatives, who compared his star quality to that of Boris Johnson,” continued the report.
Lee Anderson charms activists
Another headline-grabber was Lee Anderson, the outspoken deputy party chairman who ‘says it how it is.’ Attempting to make his audience feel good about themselves, the MP for Ashfield told delegates they weren’t members of a ‘nasty party’ but people who valued hard work. He then immediately went onto make some pretty nasty claims, including suggesting some children with ADHD were just ‘nuisances’ and the root cause of the illness was ‘bad parenting,’ and questioning whether people were really suffering from poverty and hunger in the UK today.
“This poverty nonsense, going back to when I was growing up in the 70s that was real poverty,” he said.
Let us be charitable and say Anderson’s memory is playing him false. He is a former miner and poverty didn’t hit the coalfields until the 1980s when a certain lady was in charge of government.
Nonsensical conference slogan
Even this year’s conference slogan was confusing. Rishi Sunak delivered his keynote speech, in which he too chuntered several misleading claims, alongside calls for ‘change’ in a desperate bid to depict himself as a risk-taker like Truss and the swashbuckling Boris Johnson, behind a podium, which read:
‘Long-term discussions for a brighter future.’
Perhaps ‘long-term disputes for a divided future,’ might have been more apt. As, what is likely to be their last annual conference before the next election, has only confirmed just how deeply at loggerheads, desperate and ‘Sunakered’ the Tories really are.
Right-Wing Media Watch – Tory press enthuses over Braverman’s conference speech
As mentioned earlier, the Home Secretary’s conference speech sparked a flurry of fury, not only amongst opposition parties, but also within her own party.
But for the Daily Mail, the Home Secretary’s conference speech, in which she railed against unauthorised migrants, human rights laws, and ‘woke’ critics, was a ‘wig-lifter,’ and the ‘first properly spellbinding, dramatically assured speech seen at a conference in years.’
Yep, according to Quentin Letts, parliamentary sketch writer, whose write-up was the Mail’s frontpage splash the following day, the speech ‘got the liberal elite having palpitations.’
Resembling the type of content the parody Twitter account Sir Michael Take posts, Letts wrote:
‘Then the Home Secretary herself was in our midst, loping towards the lectern in dove-grey power suit and nude shoes, hair cascading over her shoulders.
“Cheers. Hard clapping. A few people stood. A gent three rows in front of me was going nuts and she hadn’t yet said a word. Mrs Braverman bared her pearlies at the crowd, as if demonstrating them to an equine dentist.”
I don’t know about giving the ‘liberal elite palpitations,’ but the speech certainly got anyone with an ounce of compassion about migrants and human rights feeling a bit sick. It also, judging by the crowd Braverman managed to pull in at an otherwise stale conference, and the rapturous applause she received – bar the aforementioned longstanding Tory member of the London Assembly heckler Andrew Boff
– confirmed just how far to the Right the party has become and their readiness to shore up support for Sunak’s rivals in case of polling defeat.
The speech was, clearly, a leadership pitch aimed at the Tory Right. And the Tory press loved it.
‘Suella Braverman embraces her Right-Wing role in battle of the future leader,’ headlined the Telegraph.
The ‘main hall was packed,’ continued the report, ‘as Home Secretary launched keynote speech (and leadership credentials) at the Tory Party conference.’
The piece, written by the Telegraph’s associate editor, Camilla Tominey, spoke highly of Braverman.
“Observers could not fail to have noticed that the previously rather unpolished politician was more poised and confident in her delivery than ever. Has oratorial as well as sartorial advice been sought?”
The Sun, meanwhile, hailed it as ‘superb for its blunt honesty.’ Seizing the chance to have a dig at the Left, the Tory tabloid reported: “The LEFT loathe her and Suella Braverman today showed why.”
More to the point, the Sun showed just how much it is behind politicians like Braverman, in pedalling an increasingly anti-immigrant rhetoric, while presenting it as an ‘uncomfortable truth.’ Claiming Britain’s infrastructure is ‘already buckling under the weight of our vast population increase from immigration,’ the Sun recited the same-old scapegoating and stereotyping immigrant narrative that is so depressingly familiar among right-wing circles.
For those outside of such circles, the speech was torn apart and brutally condemned. Labour MP John McDonnell compared it to Enoch Powell’s ‘rivers of blood’ rhetoric of the 1960s for which, of course, Powell was sacked from the shadow cabinet. How times and the Tory Party in particular have changed.
And the speech got the biggest ovation of the week. Worrying indeed. Sunak spent the entire conference presenting himself as the agent of change. Sacking Braverman, and sending Farage back to the dark place he came from would be changes worth having. We can but dream.
Woke bashing of the week – Air traffic control in firing line for ‘woke’ diversity schemes
No service in Britain, it seems, is free from the clutches of the Right’s war on woke. Air traffic control is the latest enterprise to fall victim to the baying cultural warrior mob.
MPs are demanding that air traffic controllers spend more time dealing with passenger service and safety and less time pontificating about identity politics, the Telegraph reported on September 30.
Air traffic control hasn’t had an easy time of late. A technical glitch over the August Bank Holiday led to the cancellation of hundreds of flights. But blaming its problems on so-called ‘wokeness,’ once again, shows just how desperately bereft of ideas the Right really are.
The Telegraph claims that it can reveal that the organisation is running a suite of “woke” schemes for its staff including “unconscious bias training.”
The article takes aim at Martin Rolfe, the Nats chief executive, who has been focused on improving inclusion and diversity across the organisation, saying it ‘isn’t just good business sense, but is also ‘fundamentally the right thing to do.’ The CEO said they had been “recruiting in a diverse way”, including efforts around “how we review CVs, how we review candidates, how we look at things in a way that isn’t unconsciously biased to what we’ve seen before.”
As a result, the Telegraph claims, the latest graduate intake to Nats has been 58 percent female and it has partnered with a youth organisation named Fantasy Wings to give more “black, Asian and minority ethnic young people a platform to enter and excel in the aviation industry.”
Surely, recruiting more women and ethnic minorities is a good thing. Not according to the right-wing newspaper, which cites critics who claim the strategy has backfired, as ‘sickness among nearly a third of staff was cited by Nats as the main reason for the latest chaos at Gatwick Airport.’
It’s not quite clear, but there doesn’t seem any other way to read this statement, other than the ‘critics’ are insinuating that the recruitment of women leads to a higher number of sick days. Isn’t that unadulterated gender bias?
The report then has a dig at Nats signing up with Stonewall, describing it as a ‘contentious charity that believes male-born trans women are women.’ It informs readers how Nats, after collaborating with Stonewall, revealed its new internal menopause policy, ‘without mentioned the word ‘woman.’
Oh, and guess who the MP is making all the woke air traffic control noise? You guessed it, Sir John Hayes, chairman of the Common Sense Group of 60 Tory MPs. Hayes told the Telegraph: “Martin Rolfe should spend more time dealing with air traffic and less pontificating about diversity.
“Anybody daft enough to accept the bogus, intellectually bankrupt ideas of unconscious bias and waste time and money on every kind of woke cause is clearly not concentrating on his main job, which is to ensure people can travel safely and conveniently by air.”
Now that really is something… Sir John Hayes, head of a group of Tory bigwigs wildly shouting about liberals/lefties/wokes and nothing much else, preaching about ‘intellectually bankrupt ideas.’
The ridiculous article also confirms just how ‘bankrupt’ the Telegraph is when it comes to finding and citing sources designed to help tarnish Britain’s institutions and services.
Just how many times has John Hayes featured in Right-Wing Watch? Don’t count them – once is more than enough.
Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is author of Right-Wing Watch