It was hard to walk around conference for more than a few minutes without wanting to wave a banner saying “cheer up love, it may never happen”by Marie Le Conte / October 5, 2017 / Leave a comment
Former MP Francis Maude apparently once quipped that the Conservative party has two settings: “complacency and panic.”
Both moods have been on show this year. After obnoxiously striding into an early election in June, the Tories spent their annual conference in Manchester burying themselves in existential angst.
The word most-used to describe the mood of the event was “flat.” The speeches in the conference hall were flat, a lot of the fringe events were flat, and beyond alcohol-induced enthusiasm, even the vibe at the hotel bar was a bit, well, flat.
This was the image the Conservatives projected to the outside world, too: instead of a big reboot, the party followed Labour’s triumphant conference by announcing a few small and forgettable policies. Flat.
Beneath the surface, however, some strong feelings found their way to the gathering. The audiences of Tory members at fringes would often put passionate questions to the panels—a highlight was one audience-member who asked MP Theresa Villiers if the current cabinet was, in fact, “useless, uninspiring and rubbish.” (She responded with admirable diplomacy.)
In others, local government figures would go on passionate rants against CCHQ, the party’s central campaigning body, and receive thunderous applause for doing so.
Even at the evening receptions, safely hidden from most journalists and their own party members, MPs would often look a bit anxious. Some of the younger ones from the 2017 intake looked like they weren’t sure getting elected was the best idea after all, and many backbenchers would vent their frustration at the leadership to anyone willing to listen.
Some parliamentarians did manage to bring a bit of cheer to Manchester. Going from event to event and attending just as many parties were the unlikely trio of Jacob Rees-Mogg, James Cleverly and Ruth Davidson.
The one thing they have in common? They looked happy to be there. Rees-Mogg was delighted by his newfound popularity; Cleverly seems able to feel comfortably at home wherever he goes; and Davidson was still celebrating the solid results her team got north of the border.
The eccentric backbencher, the rising star and the Scottish leader seemed to lift the party’s spirits; they were warmly welcomed wherever they went and appeared on countless selfies with party supporters.