Confession time. I didn’t go to conference. It’s not that I’m too busy, or I’m too tight to afford the entrance fee. I’m sorry for the journalist’s calls that I did not return, the fringe events I did not speak at. In any event, I probably did you a favour.
The truth is I am finding politics rather disappointing at present, I’m afraid. The forced smiles, the navel-gazing, the missed opportunities for radical change, the uncertainty. All the while this rather comical figure of Jeremy Corbyn being taken seriously.
But it does genuinely worry me that we are perhaps reaching new levels of disconnection with some of our members, and certainly our voters. I’m a Conservative. I feel passionately that the answers to some of the most serious and challenging problems in society at the moment are within a modern, compassionate Conservative Party. Funding public services, investing in infrastructure, wealth creation, jobs, the economy — all these questions can only be realistically answered by a Conservative government with fiscal responsibility and a strong sense of social justice.
Yet I must be honest, I knew none of this was going to come out at conference. If it did, it would be overshadowed by someone saying something stupid at a fringe event, any exciting policy (Simon Wessely reviewing the 30-year-old Mental Health Act — terrific!) drowned out by the circus. And all the while being hassled by corporates to come and have a drink to talk about their government contract bid that has gone belly up with DfID, or something else I could clearly do nothing about.
Not my thing, I’m afraid. The Conservative Party has transformed Britain in places people never thought we would. The single biggest factor in improving the life chances of families across Britain is having a job. In Plymouth unemployment is down 52 per cent. We have much to be proud of. But the truth is that there is so much more to do if we are to truly bury Corbyn and his modern-day crazy gang.
This was our opportunity to speak to that. Our chance to give people something to vote for to highlight our record, and light the path forward. You don’t need to understand rocket science to hold off Jezza’s surge. Give people something to vote for and they will come out and vote for you. Young, old, black, white, gay, straight: we all want the same things. Good public services, opportunities to build a family and own a home, zero discrimination, a fair society, social justice, good health and enough wealth.
The PM tried valiantly — could anyone have worse luck? There was some terrific stuff in there. An energy price cap (must be done properly), the threshold increased for tuition fee payback, an independent review of mental health provision, new council homes and more housebuilding. There are more than ten thousand people waiting for social housing in Plymouth — there is something in there for them.
But much was lost in the noise. The failing set, the man-child climbing on stage. We talked about our own jobs — when should Boris resign? When will the PM go? Doesn’t she look weak? This minister said this about that minster . . . Give me strength.
We serve the people, that’s it. If you really are in this because you think it’s show business for ugly people or the deluded, please move on. We are in tough times, no doubt. But it is then that we are at our most loyal and our most resilient. I cannot honestly believe there are moves afoot to uproot the PM. The mere chatter of it affirms my decision to give conference a wide berth. It is light years away from what people on the doors, in communities and in businesses across Britain want.
We have so much work to do, so many lives to change. The PM is facing the most existential political challenges of our generation and if she fails — or worse — we fail her as her MPs, the results are catastrophic. The biggest strategic threat to this nation as we know it today, this country we’ve all fought and worked so hard for over so many generations, is not North Korea. It’s not Isis, it’s not Russia. It’s got a beard, and he sits opposite me at work.