Conservative Conference…What A Difference a Year Makes

By Matthew Young, Member of the YCC

What a difference a year makes. The 2016 party conference season was characterised by Labour in a state of chaotic flux as the party announced Corbyn as the winner of the second leadership election in a year. The Tories, on the other hand, were celebrating a year of presiding over a majority Government and were welcoming a new leader in Theresa May - who had enjoyed a solid start as Prime Minister since taking over in June.

Now it is the Tories who are in flux. The atmosphere at the 2017 Conservative Conference was noticeably flat at the fringe events and hotel bars as delegates pondered if the Party should stick with Theresa May despite the dreadful general election result, or make a change now, whatever the consequences for party stability. One man who manifestly favoured the latter was Boris Johnson - a destabilising figure throughout the meet up in Manchester.

Despite the obvious uncertainty, the Conference was supposed to be the latest relaunch for Theresa May – an attempt to show that the party was united, would deliver Brexit and still had a full and transformative domestic agenda.

Coughing, pranksters and malfunctioning stages aside, the speech failed to live up to this billing. While it is true enough that the policies announced in May’s speech were focused on her domestic programme, they were far from ground-breaking. As such, we saw a re-announcement of the energy price cap, first revealed in the Party’s election manifesto, a small investment in housing to provide an extra five thousand homes a year over the parliament and a review of the student loan funding system.

In a way, May’s hands are tied. With Brexit looming, there isn’t the money to make large scale capital investments, nor the appetite. The Government is therefore left to make smaller scale interventions that often result in the banning or curtailing of certain practices (see the ban on letting agent fees). It would be unwise to rule out similar style announcement in the November Budget – policies designed to win around voters without actually spending much money.