Is the rise in civil disobedience all we learn from the Conservative Party conference?
Yet again the Conservatives, a minority government still spinning from the impact of Brexit, austerity and their shambolic coalition with the DUP in the aftermath of the unintended but harshly fought general election, chose the city of Manchester as the place to base their annual Conservative Conference. It takes place when the House of Commons is in recess. Manchester, a city built on the blood, sweat and tears of the working class and an area of the North West which is, in no uncertain terms, a Labour heartland. Labour hold a majority of seats within Manchester City Council since it was made into a metropolitan borough council in 1974, with 23 out of the 27 MPS elected in Greater Manchester being Labour MPs. Therefore, it could be seen as dumbfounding that the Conservatives chose again bring their conference to an area of the country that they have forever defiled and criticised, an example being George Osbourne’s (the former Chancellor of the Exchequer) use of the term the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ creating connotations of “trying to transplant and create a mini-London in the north” as was the view of Richard Carter, the leader of Yorkshire First, advocating Yorkshire devolution in 2015.
However, it could be said that the Conservatives chose to have their conference in a city such as Manchester purely because they can be and are protected. Nevertheless, this did not stop the will of the people and true democracy was served in the freedom to protest. The Oxford Dictionary definition of ‘civil disobedience’ is “non-violent resistance” and as a member of the protests that occurred on the 1st of October to mark the beginning of the conference, this was exactly what the protests represented. As the Manchester Evening News reported on the 1st, the police said more than 30,000 people attended. Organisers say the figure was closer to 50,000. Therefore, it is clear that there was a wealth of dissatisfaction with the government’s choice of venue, the main issues surrounding Brexit, austerity and the lack of justice for the Grenfell victims of the tower block fire on the 14th of June 2017, where council members refused to listen to the working class who knew that there were inadequate fire safety regulations, with the Independent reporting on the 13th of September that nearly 80% of those victims have still not been rehoused. As well as current issues, I campaigned with the Liverpool faction of the Fight Racism, Fight Imperialism Newspaper, advocating for a complete overthrow of the current system which legitimises poverty, austerity and class hierarchy.
In the conference itself, May was undermined on all frontiers. It seems that May’s speech surrounding the “British Dream” was undermined by three major slip-ups. Firstly, in her keynote speech the comedian Simon Brodkin was able to pass her a P45, her coughing fit threatened to undermine anything relevant that she had to say within her speech, a Guardian article from the 4th of October summarising it brilliantly to be a perfect “metaphor for a premiership that is struggling and running out of things to say. Finally, there were also problems with the backdrop of the conference, the “F” from the slogan “Building a country that works for everyone” working as a catalyst so that by the end of the conference the whole slogan was unrecognisable. Despite rumours of Boris Johnson not standing for the Prime Minister, he tweeted a response to her speech: “Great job by the PM today, putting housing at the heart of the British dream,” perhaps seeking to quell any rumours of an uprising against May or her Brexit negotiations. However, the main criteria that came out of May’s speech surrounded chopping and changing from Jeremy Corbyn’s radical policies such as a cap on energy prices and building more council houses. Despite this, her speech was also for reassurance, herding off the Boris Johnsons of the party and yet again linking Corbyn’s policies to that of Venezuela. In terms of ad lib, she scored highly and frequently.
In conclusion, all the Conservative party conference proved was that power does not equal authority, Theresa May’s leadership simultaneously undermined by the split in her own party concerning Europhiles and Eurosceptics, her own political power and the power of protests outside of the conference highlighting her party’s lack of understanding surrounding the working man. However, only time will tell if civil disobedience will impact upon May’s government and confidence, or if apathy will result in a patchy but legitimate Conservative government lasting until 2022. Whatever the result, the will of the people in protesting and making their voices heard is surely something that will impact upon modern British politics for years to come.