ANDREW FISHER has chronicled the most bizarre and reckless claims and misjudged announcements from this week’s Conservative Party conference
The cavalcade of crankery known as the Conservative Party annual conference is over for another year. But just in case you missed some of them, here’s a Top 10 that reflects a party losing touch with reality – and soon with office…
1. 20mph zones
On his first round of media interviews ahead of conference, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak took aim at 20mph zones.
It was not long before it emerged that Sunak’s own local council, Conservative-controlled North Yorkshire, is extending 20mph zones because, in their own words, they are “safer”.
Croydon also has 20mph zones – brought in by the last Labour administration and so far maintained by the current Tory Mayor. And a good thing too: people hit by a vehicle when it is travelling at 20mph are around five times less likely to be killed than by a car at 30mph.
2. Susan Hall’s racism
Susan Hall, among the crankiest of the Conservative cranks and her party’s London Mayoral candidate, has in the past tweeted her approval of Enoch Powell and welcomed the Trumpian description of our city as “Londonistan”.
Hall is clearly too cranky even for the Tories. In almost a quarter of a century, she is the only Conservative Mayoral candidate not to be given a platform for a speech to the main hall at Tory Party Conference.
That didn’t deter her from delving into dog-whistle politics at a conference fringe event, stating that Jews in London were “frightened” of Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan.
“I know how frightened some of the community is because of the divisive attitude of Sadiq Khan … We need to defeat him, particularly for our Jewish community,” Hall said.
Several prominent Conservatives and the Board of Deputies of British Jews slapped down Hall’s latest ridiculous claim.
3. Meat Tax
In her speech to conference, Energy Secretary Claire Coutinho said, “It’s no wonder that Labour is so relaxed about taxing meat.”
Sky News’ softly spoken interviewer Sophy Ridge gently but effectively exposed this fantastical lie – challenging the minister 10 times with no answer.
As various independent fact-checkers will confirm, the Labour Party has no such policy.
4. Work till you drop
This, at least, appears to be a genuine Tory policy.
Lord Frost, Brexit negotiator under Boris Johnson, proposed that the state pension age should rise to 75. Pity the care workers, cleaners, prison officers, builders and millions of others who will be dropping dead before they manage to claim a penny of pension that they’ve spent their life paying towards. Work till you drop!
5. Big Brother is watching
Home Secretary Suella Braverman could fill an article on her own with her far-fetched and bogus claims.
Braverman said that the Human Rights Act should be called “the Criminal Rights Act”. Oh, how we laughed…
The Human Rights Act incorporated into British law the European Convention on Human Rights. The only countries in Europe who are not signed up to the ECHR are Russia and Belarus – nice company you’re keeping there, Suella!
But cranking the irony dial up to 11, Braverman complained about people being “disciplined for using the wrong words”, just as Andrew Boff, a widely respected Conservative member of the London Assembly, was being frog-marched from the conference by security guards for daring to voice his opinion that her speech was “tripe” and a “homophobic rant” – a not unreasonable assessment.
6. Arrested development
Even Croydon South’s own Chris Philp got in on the act. The policing minister who stands by as others encourage people to carry out criminal damage spent time at the Tory conference encouraging members of the public to make citizens’ arrests when they see shoplifters stealing goods in supermarkets.
Sorry, Mr Philp, but the idea I’m going to risk getting charged with assault or myself risk being assaulted – or worse – to defend the insured goods of a profiteering multinational supermarket is beyond ridiculous.
And it is also more than a bit desperate, from a party which has undermined policing for the past decade.
7. The ‘world government’ fallacy
From the backbenches, Danny Kruger, the MP for Devizes, then donned his tin-foil hat to announce: “There’s a huge movement going on globally to create essentially a world government that will have power to dictate to national governments what they should do in anticipation of another pandemic.”
There is “no greater threat to our national democracy”, Kruger said. Apparently seriously. In public. To a room full of people.
Some friends of Mr Kruger should be staging an intervention, settling him down in a darkened room and asking whether this “huge movement” and “world government” are still in the room with him now?
8. The ’15-minute city’ fantasy
Mark Harper, the Transport Secretary who claimed not to know his own Government’s transport policy (at least, not until the last day of conference…more on that below), told his audience, “What we shouldn’t tolerate is the idea that local councils can decide how often you go to the shops.”
Former BBC broadcaster Emily Maitlis tweeted: “It is sinister. It’s also not remotely true…”
No council anywhere in Britain is proposing any such thing.
During the conference, Conservative-run Hampshire Council did announce it was facing “financial meltdown”. But the Conservatives announced no solutions to the crisis in local government (which they have created), preferring instead to join Trumpian conspiracy theorists in “addressing” “problems” that don’t actually exist.
9. HS2 hits the buffers
Prime Minister Sunak and many of his cabinet spent the entire week denying that a decision had been taken to cancel the second leg of HS2, from Birmingham to Manchester, when they clearly had made up their minds.
Unsurprisingly, the cancellation of this long-promised piece of vital national infrastructure was announced by Rishi Sunak in his speech on Wednesday.
The speech was quickly condemned by two of Sunak’s predecessors as Tory PM: David Cameron and Boris Johnson.
Sunak and other ministers held last-minute meetings with HS2-backing city mayors – Andy Street (West Midlands, Conservative) and Andy Burnham (Greater Manchester, Labour), which just about did enough to prevent Street resigning from the Conservative Party.
It did nothing to prevent the immense sense of betrayal felt by many communities who had been promised the economic benefits of HS2 by a cross-party consensus over the past 15 years.
Even more farcically from this shambolic government, Sunak promised that the £36billion “saved” from cancelling HS2 would be ringfenced for projects outside of London. Two of those projects included on the Government press-released list have already been built and are operational. Fingers on the pulse, eh?
10. Whoops! A rare moment of honesty…
After an absolute mauling from Victoria Derbyshire, dissembling Cabinet minister Michelle Donelan said live on BBC Newsnight: “I believe that we should stand up for things that are divisive, and promote hatred.”
At last we had some straight-talking honesty from Conservative Party conference, where the descent into the gutter of Republican far-right, Trump-style politics looks complete.
For a bit of balance, though, let me give a modicum of credit to one local Croydon Conservative – Gavin Barwell, the former MP for Croydon Central.
He spent the week tweeting his disapproval of the idiotic antics of Susan Hall (“There’s lots of things Conservatives can criticise Sadiq Khan for. As the Board of Deputies says, this isn’t one of them”); Suella Braverman (Barwell wrote in response to her “hurricane” speech on immigration that it is “unacceptable” to reference migration as an “existential challenge”. It is, Barwell wrote, “undeniably the language of the far right”); Lee Anderson, the wannabe TV presenter (“This increasing trend for politicians to be interviewed by their colleagues is sus”); and Prime Minister Sunak (“He must find it humiliating that desperation at the state of the polls has led to him focusing on things that should be a matter for local councillors”).
In his conference speech, Sunak said the country wanted change. Looking at the train wreck of his first – and possibly last – party conference as Prime Minister, who could possibly disagree?
- From 2015 to 2019, Andrew Fisher, pictured right, worked as the Labour Party’s Director of Policy under Jeremy Corbyn. He is a former chair of the Croydon Central Constituency Labour Party. Fisher is also the author of The Failed Experiment – and how to build an economy that works, and now writes regular columns for InsideCroydon
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