As the 2017 party conference season draws to a close, the left will think that it won the battle of the summits.
Labour’s conference on the coast was larger, rallyish, and more upbeat that the Conservative meeting this year – although it was more of a carnival celebrating the central figure of the feast than a conventional political meeting.
But the Tory conference passed off well enough, with all of the much-puffed possibilities for upsets which occupied so much press time in the run-up to it evaporating on first contact with reality.
In terms of the biggest issue of our time, the party in the country at large is far more united on supporting Brexit and getting on with it than the outbursts from some among the parliamentary membership might imply.
Opportunities to make this point crystal clear were certainly not missed by the grassroots at drinks parties and in fringe meetings.
This is useful spine-stiffening stuff. Our media talks as if Brexit is tomorrow. We have time. David Davis’ calm and measured discussion of the negotiations, alongside Liam Fox’s optimism on the trade front, were the key Brexit takeaways in a process that still has years to run.
As far as leadership muttering goes, every party endures “noises off”, and nothing in the Tory environment rivals even for a moment the Labour vendettas of the Blair-Brown years.
The Tory consensus in Manchester was that Theresa May will see us through Brexit and beyond, and indeed the Prime Minister’s tenacity can only be admired.
She battled through her speech with a challenging cough, her perseverance and humanity being the antithesis of the “maybot” she is said to be – something that the public will see is to her credit. Teflon Theresa marches on.
With regard to key policy areas besides Brexit, the Conservative party will not reconnect with younger voters until it acts decisively on housing. In that context, the council house building programme set out in Manchester is the most important policy to emerge from conference, stepping as it does on Labour’s territory. It ties the party back to the generous One Nation philosophy that May set out in her first speech outside Number 10, which truly scared Labour people
On the other hand, the difficulties that the repolished Help to Buy programme has encountered indicates how hard it is to land things in this space.
The Tories can’t outbid Labour in giveaways, and they shouldn’t try.
Freezing tuition fees and capping energy prices – two other major conference policy takeaways – are signs of government in action and with laudable aims. But we must remember that for those who are really motivated by such things, Tory action in intervening in markets will always be ersatz in comparison to Labour’s renationalisation agenda. May’s defence of capitalism and free markets is surely the better answer here.
Finally, this conference was far less troubled by protesters than the 2015 Manchester meeting, as a result of being much better policed. Last time around, the police “tolerance level” seemed to be set so high as to be indifferent to remarkable abuse of delegates happening right in front of them.
Notwithstanding a “hang the Tories” sign (complete with dangling mannequins) welcoming attendees this year, this was a far less threatening affair. Huge disruption was feared. It didn’t happen.
Oh, and the Lib Dems protested outside, as if they see themselves as an activist group rather than a rival political party. As Donald Trump would say: sad.