A Conservative conference that worked for almost everyone, for now

Conference means Birmingham this year and the May team was determined to make a success of it - the slogan, a party that works for everyone, encapsulated that driving aim.

Theresa May has a job communicating her vision as different tribes form within the party, writes Stephen Day
Theresa May has a job communicating her vision as different tribes form within the party, writes Stephen Day
For the outside world, the themes were clear and consistent: an economy that works for everyone and a society that works for everyone.

Birmingham, however, could be a place of ill omen for May. 

It was the home of Joseph Chamberlain, the hero of May’s co-chief of staff Nick Timothy, the man who split the Tory party on the issue of free trade in 1906, leaving it out of office for a generation.

May too faces a party divided on trade, this time with Europe. 

The Prime Minister, technically a 'remain' supporter, sought to establish her 'leave' credentials. 

She even accused those who wanted to use Parliament to delay Brexit of attempting to "subvert democracy" and declared that there would be no compromise on immigration and no fudge on Brexit. 

The key ministers in charge of Brexit - the three Brexiteers David Davis, Liam Fox and Boris Johnson - were given clear rules of engagement on how the Prime Minister wants to conduct the negotiations. 

She declared that there would be no running commentary, no stray words and no hyped up media reports which might undermine the Brexit negotiations.

Other tribes are forming in the Conservative jungle.

Stephen Day, COO and MD of public affairs at Burson-Marsteller UK
This trio is only one tribe of ministers in the May government. 
They sit alongside some longstanding May allies, such as Damian Green, the work and pensions secretary, Chris Grayling at the Department of Transport and Sir Alan Duncan as number two at the Foreign Office, some of whom have known May since university. 

There is also a group of ministers who have worked for May at the Home Office, such as Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire and Karen Bradley at the Department for Culture, Media & Sport. 

Beyond this, other tribes are forming in the Conservative jungle. 

Neither Cameron nor Osborne were in Birmingham and it was left to prominent Tory women, such as pro-'remain' Nicky Morgan and Anna Soubry, to fight against hard Brexit. 

Meanwhile arch-Eurosceptics, such as Iain Duncan-Smith and Bernard Jenkins, were highly visible and had a spring in their step.

The May domestic agenda aims to create a global Britain, which is open to the world. In practice this meant some shifts in domestic policy.

The rules for chronically ill sickness benefit claimants were relaxed, deficit reduction was delayed and there was a modest boost on housing, but notably no decision on a London runway. 

Other announcements suggested a hard-headed Conservatism. 

The UK will work to end dependence on foreign doctors, there will be tougher rules for foreign students and the armed forces will be exempt from human rights law.

None of this so far matches the radical reform legacy of Chamberlain. Nick Timothy’s book, helpfully on sale at the Conservative Party shop, refutes the charge that Chamberlain was "the most destructive wrecker of party relations in a generation". 

Mrs May will hope that her visit to Birmingham signals the start of a period of unity and healing in the Conservative party after the referendum. 

Stephen Day is COO and MD of public affairs at Burson-Marsteller UK

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