Look ahead: Conservative Party Conference 2021

Simon Darby

Director - Head of Public Affairs

Following Sir Keir’s efforts to face down factions within his own party in Brighton, the Conservatives head to Manchester for what the Prime Minister and his team hope will be a far less acrimonious conference.

This is not to say CPC21 will be home to a Boris love-in over the next few days. The recently announced Health & Social Care Levy – and perceptions that the PM and Chancellor are happy to readily countenance tax rises – continues to rankle with the grassroots members, who will make their voices heard. In addition, many on the backbenches retain a discomfort at being seen to place additional financial burdens on those of working age.

More widely, with conference taking place against a chaotic backdrop of fuel shortages, a lack of HGV drivers and noises developing around ‘Christmas panic’ stories, there is plenty for the party faithful to be nervous about. Expect much reassurance across the set-piece speeches that this administration is on top of issues and in control, in order to assuage concerns from members.

That said, the Prime Minister is still very much a man in charge of his own destiny and will want to use the coming days to set out a narrative that his government are getting on with a post-pandemic recovery and going for growth. Having carried out an (extremely painless) reshuffle, conference will be an opportunity for those ministers charged with delivering to make a mark: what will education priorities look like under Nadhim Zahawi; what is Michael Gove’s DLUHC going to push; and how does Sajid Javid see a post-COVID health service operating? For the Conservative kremlinologists, the positioning and jostling of Rishi Sunak and the newly promoted Liz Truss should make for interesting viewing.

Away from the main hall, the fringe listing provides a clear reflection of policy areas that are at the top of the agenda. Unsurprisingly, given this administration’s Net Zero commitments (and with COP26 round the corner), events on sustainability and green growth are plentiful. Equally unsurprisingly, given the need to square increased housing supply with a grassroots unenthused by development, planning and the built environment also dominates.

Events on ‘levelling-up’ are also ubiquitous – partly an indication of how strongly Johnson’s government is aligned with this agenda, but equally a reflection of the ongoing lack of clarity on specifics. If nothing else, the Conservatives’ time in Manchester should provide with an interesting exercise on crowdsourcing policy ideas for how to spread prosperity across the country.

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