Around this time of the year, the main UK political parties hold their annual conferences and have done so for as long as I can remember. While I have found myself following politics much more closely in recent years, without supporting any party in particular, I have not been keen to follow for the most part these well staged shows, which strike me as being more about talk than action, a chance for the party faithful to have a jolly, for the party leadership to gee up and inspire members to be active in promoting the party cause and just maybe add to the propaganda stakes and attract new supporters and have an honest debate within the party on how best then to proceed.
Concerning my lack of interest, this year has been no exception (life is too short and I have better things to do), although I have gathered snippets on the way. I have, however, with interest, listened to and reflected on Conservative leader, Theresa May’s opening and closing speeches (see here and here). This is part due to two hitherto disillusioned with Tory, who were in the past keen Tory activists, friends having been quite enthusiastic with these speeches, and one decidedly non Tory friend having been more than his customary antagonist self toward Tory rhetoric, as a result of following these speeches, no doubt agreeing with one anti-Tory headline that includes the words: “double-speaking, hypocritical and very nasty Tory conference”. So here are my thoughts on the speeches …
As far as inspiring members goes, widening the net in trying to appeal as Labour once did to what was once referred to as middle England (but she did try to include, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland also), and making arguing the point that Labour is the “nasty” party, I think the lady did great. I could imagine it falling not so far short of Shakespeare’s Henry 5th Agincourt speech when it comes to stirring passions and rousing the troops, but as the saying goes: “the proof of the pudding etc.”, and given the Tories in recent years have failed in many of the areas she wants to reclaim, such as reuniting the country, making a country that rewards merit rather than privilege, rewards workers who work hard, everyone paying their own way, ordinary people not having to make the greater sacrifices, societal justice especially for those who are at the bottom of the rung, all this had a somewhat hollow ring. Her praise of Health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, and defending the Tory record with the NHS in the light of the dismissive way junior doctors have been treated and the cynical move toward privatization while service appears to be getting worse; her keenness on localism when we read today of local objections to fracking being overridden; her idea of many more homes and being creative in achieving this, in the light of rising homelessness; her commitment to climate change control when according to my Green friends she just doesn’t get it; her aim to give our children better educational opportunities yet further division by extending grammar schools; her claim for a more compassionate approach to welfare, e.g. not making those worse off having to regularly reapply – meaning the Tories really are on the side of the worse off in our society, in the light of well documented casualties of welfare reform, all did leave me unconvinced.
But the lady did do great by her words and impressed me in a way no other Conservative leader has impressed me since the days of Maggie Thatcher, who depending on who you listened to put the great back into Great Britain or divided the nation and created a new underclass. But I do hope she can match her fine words, and putting aside her defence of the Conservative record, which is clearly debatable, I happen to agree with much of what she said. If only the slogan in front of her lectern “a country that works for everyone” were true! Yet ideas of creating opportunity, recognizing the importance of families and the local community, encouraging responsible citizenship, using government to ensure national interest above individualism and self interest be promoted, all paying their fair share, a just society, listening to what the people are saying e.g. in the recent EU referendum and addressing concerns over things like immigration, forging partnerships with our soon not to be fellow EU members as well as the rest of the world, all appear sound and maybe were better articulated than did any of the other main party leaders. And for the record, gay marriage was not David Cameron’s greatest achievement, it was one of his worst! When it came to Brexit, other than still awaiting the devil in the detail, how she viewed the referendum result, and what she intends to do as a result of that result, was spot on and I applaud her words.
But be rest assured, even though I prefer Theresa May to Jeremy Corbyn, Tim Farron, Caroline Lucas, Nicola Sturgeon and (all gawd help us) Nigel Farage, I am not going over to the Tories just yet – for they have done too much damage to the country that needs to be undone, but just maybe and notwithstanding that is not quite how Mrs May’s sees things, she might yet match her fine words by her actions. As a leader, I cannot be anything other than impressed thus far, and hope she is able to see her vision come to fruition, providing social injustice is tackled and the poor are not left behind. Time will tell of course and I will await developments with interest.