Search

Conservative Party Spring Conference Roundup – Day 1

Chancellor Rishi Sunak in conversation with Blackpool MP, Paul Maynard. Image: Conservative Party

For those party conference hacks out there, it will come as no surprise that there have been more announcements about which school play the Chancellor’s daughter is starring in, than of actual policy substance.


If you are not a party member, then it is near impossible to watch the speeches as they are being made. If you are one of the few people in the room (clearly audible given the limited numbers of claps from the hall), then there is extraordinarily little online engagement.

“I think British people want to see a bit more Conservative pragmatism and a bit less Net Zero dogma.”

Oliver Dowden, Conservative Party Chairman

Main takeaway, if you don’t idolise Mrs Thatcher, you won’t like most of the speeches today.

“Net Zero dogma”:

In lieu of policy announcements there have been some eyebrow raising statements from Cabinet Ministers who have not been aired in a few weeks due to Covid. The most interesting of all, was the Party Chairman Oliver Dowden who is still engaged in operation red meat.

In an extraordinary critique of the Government’s (and much of the world’s) Net Zero target, Dowden told the Conference “I think British people want to see a bit more Conservative pragmatism and a bit less Net Zero dogma.” 

“We are Conservatives,” he said, “we exist to conserve.” This is the first time we have heard a shift in tone towards climate change by a cabinet minister since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sent the cost of oil and gas soaring.

This is a remarkable change in tone by the Government since it hosted COP26 in Glasgow at the end of last year. Setting out clear decarbonisation commitments, the Government have been world leaders in calling for a transition to renewable energy production. However, in the face of the soaring cost of living, Conservative backbenchers have been lobbying the Government hard on a shift in tone towards those decarbonisation targets.

Oliver Dowden
Oliver Dowden outlines his opposition to “Net Zero Dogma.” Image: Conservative Party

The Spring Statement:

The conference started with one of those “in conversations” with the Chancellor. In an awkward exchange between Rishi Sunak and local Blackpool MP, Paul Maynard asked how he relaxes. After an awkward laugh that felt it would never end, the Chancellor said his priority this week has been helping his daughter with her school production of the Lion King. Apparently, there’s not much else going on right now…

Highlighting that he had always wanted to be Laura Kuenssberg, not once but three times, Maynard asked if the Chancellor could tell the conference what was in his Spring Statement. How they laughed…of course he can’t tell us that – or face the wrath of Mr Speaker.


Empathising with those who are facing mounting cost-of-living pressures caused by skyrocketing energy bills, inflation and interest rate rises, Sunak hinted that there will be an update on support for households in his Spring Statement.

Levelling Up and Regulations Down:

New Brexit Opportunities Minister, Jacob Rees Mogg started the day with an attack on EU regulations, unsurprisingly not mentioning one that would get the chop. In his new role, he is speaking to industry to get a good idea of which need to be ripped up.

What is surprising is that a traditionally Eurosceptic audience did not jump to their feet. Normally a highly popular one for the crowds, the speech did not hit the mark. Has the Conservative Party in the North lost its appetite for a bonfire of regulations?

This is in contrast to the audience reaction for Michael Gove’s speech on levelling up – unsurprisingly a favoured topic for northern Conservative members. He said that while talent is equally spread across the country, opportunity is not. He reiterated his plan to change this and gave an example – oh, how we have longed for an example, of how his department was changing policy. Thank goodness for Mr Gove!

Jacob Rees Mogg 18.3.22
“We must avoid the temptation to gold plate and regulate, just because the EU does.”
Jacob Rees Mogg, Minister for Brexit Opportunities. Image: Conservative Party

More Choice:

Fresh from announcing the end of Covid travel measures for all arrivals, timed to help those parents who want to get away from it all over Easter, Sajid Javid reiterated his mission as Health and Care Secretary, telling conference “We need to put power back into the hands of patients.”

The Conservative Party has not hosted a conference in Blackpool since the noughties and many of the speeches sounded as though we could be back in the 1980s. Either this was about leadership candidates setting out their stall by paying obligatory homage to Mrs Thatcher, or it represents a shift away from centre right thinking.

However, there was at least one grounded and sensible speech from the conference hall this afternoon. Hurrah for Nadhim Zahawi, who said that the country needs to invest in high quality and inspirational science education if we are to continue to find solutions to tackle climate change.

Final Thought:

Are you glad you went, I asked one of the delegates this afternoon who had been sitting in the Blackpool Wetherspoons since Oliver Dowden took to the stage: “The beach was nice,” he said.

Hopefully, the Conservative Party will get more people there tomorrow for the Prime Minister’s big speech. Afterall, a party who believes people are better off at work has found that most of its members on a Friday are indeed at work.

You can never look too much into a speech at Party Conference, they are designed to talk to under 1% of the UK population – however, in seriousness, there was one consistently missing theme in today’s statements – any actual policy.

We are only up to two years away from a General Election. The Conservative Party is already recruiting candidates – but what will they stand on? How will they deliver the levelling-up agenda? This conference will leave most people left scratching their heads. If the Conservative Party wants to win in two years’ time, stop throwing red meat and put it back on the bones.

Share

Related Topics

Latest

The Economy and Gaza: The Issues That Will Make or Break Labour’s First Year

The new Prime Minister, Keir Starmer has now assumed office. After appointing his cabinet, the new Government must begin their work to enact change immediately. In his first speech as PM, Starmer stressed his goal to be a government of service. Labour won the General Election with only a 34% vote share. Winning over more of the public will take a lot of work.

Video Features

On the Campaign Trail with Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Bromsgrove, Bradley Thomas

On the Campaign Trail with Labour PPC for Swansea East, Carolyn Harris

Conservative Parliamentary candidate for Newark, Robert Jenrick

Marie Goldman

Subscribe to our newsletter for your free digital copy of the journal!

Receive our latest insights, future journals as soon as they are published and get invited to our exclusive events and webinars.

Newsletter Signups
?
?

We respect your privacy and will not share your email address with any third party. Your personal data will be collected and handled in accordance with our Privacy Policy.

Never miss an issue by subcribing to our newsletter!

Receive our latest insights and all future journals as soon as they are published and get invited to our exclusive events and webinars.

Newsletter Signups
?
?

We respect your privacy and will not share your email address with any third party. Your personal data will be collected and handled in accordance with our Privacy Policy.

Never miss an issue by subcribing to our newsletter!

Receive our latest insights and all future journals as soon as they are published and get invited to our exclusive events and webinars.

Newsletter Signups
?
?

We respect your privacy and will not share your email address with any third party. Your personal data will be collected and handled in accordance with our Privacy Policy.

Newsletter Signup

Receive our latest insights as soon as they are published and get invited to our exclusive events and webinars.

Newsletter Signups
?
?

We respect your privacy and will not share your email address with any third party. Your personal data will be collected and handled in accordance with our Privacy Policy.