Conservative Party Conference 2018: The Party of Opportunity?

Messaging at the 2018 Tory conference reads: "Opportunity. The Conservative Party is the Party of opportunity. The Conservative Party is the Party that will deliver a Brexit which gives Great Britain the opportunity to thrive on the global stage."

Mogg, May and Boris are not the embodiment of Conservative Party unity (© Matt Crossick/ EMPICS, Christopher Furlong/Getty Images, Philip Brown/Getty Images)
Mogg, May and Boris are not the embodiment of Conservative Party unity (© Matt Crossick/ EMPICS, Christopher Furlong/Getty Images, Philip Brown/Getty Images)

That’s the message that the Conservative Party wants its membership to take away from its Conference in Birmingham this week. That’s the message the Conservative Party wants the general public to understand, but it’s not a message the politicos and the media are or will be talking about over the coming days.

Instead, they will be talking about the Conservative Party’s lack of unity, the internal politics and whether Boris Johnson is ever going to start playing as part of a team (no, he’s not).

It is true that the Conservative Party has always been a broad church – and, most of the time, this has still allowed it to function as one party. But the Brexit divide runs deep; it’s historic, it’s emotional and it’s raw.

The cracks in the Party are obvious: the Brexit politicking of Westminster has made its way up to Birmingham. Daily rumours continue in the Hyatt that Brexiteers Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg are plotting to overthrow Theresa May in order to secure their ‘better’ Brexit deal.

The Chancellor, Philip Hammond, has already hit back at Johnson with an openly mocking speech and former Trade Minister Lord Digby Jones has criticised Johnson’s anti-business rhetoric.

Overthrowing Theresa May right now would likely trigger another general election; a general election with a very real risk that Jeremy Corbyn might end up as Prime Minister. And the Tories, well, they hate losing elections.

Controlling the narrative in this environment is nigh-on impossible.

Simon Whitehead, managing director at H+K

When push comes to shove, will they really throw Theresa May under the bus if it risks handing power to Labour? Probably not.

Indisputably, there are differences of opinion on Brexit, but this bitter in-fighting is not a day-to-day barrier for most members, activists and politicians.

Conservative Brexiteers and Remainers are still drinking in the bar together, they are still socialising, and they are still debating a range of other issues.

Most importantly, they all say how they are still aligned on the fundamentals of being a Conservative.

If Conservative Brexiteers and Remainers need to work together to fight a General Election, they will do.

For a majority of the members, activists and politicians, this Brexit divide is not deep enough to stop them pulling together.

However, the politicking of the key players is enough for the political media to continue to write stories around a divided Conservative Party.

Controlling the narrative in this environment is nigh-on impossible.

They need to convince the general public they have Brexit in hand, and that the difference of opinion in the party is not a barrier to running the country effectively.

The enormity of this task should not be underestimated and for the next few days and until there is a Brexit deal, there is little light at the end of the tunnel.

Simon Whitehead is a managing director at H+K

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