What did the Conservative Party Conference tell us about our future?
The question over who lives in the White House for the next four years is dominating the news, and the decision is firmly placed in the hands of American citizens. So it can feel odd for us here in the UK: we changed our Prime Minister three months ago, without the public casting a single vote. But, like it or not, that is the nature of our political system.
So it’s now up to Theresa May to convince us that she is worthy of her new title.
At the Conservative Party Conference this week in Birmingham, May outlined her party’s plans for the next four years and just like every other conference, the underlying theme was ‘change’. In fact, she said the word exactly 29 times when talking about the economy, worker’s rights and housing affordability.
However, the biggest reference to change was, of course, when referencing Brexit. May didn’t go into specifics (beyond that Article 50 will be triggered next March) although it was clear that she wants a best of both worlds scenario: access to the single market with the removal of EU law precedence. But with the French President Francois Hollande stating this week that “there must be a threat, there must be a risk, there must be a price” of leaving the EU, compromise is extremely likely. Nevertheless, expect to hear the word Brexit at least once a day for the foreseeable future.
But what kind of Conservative is May? As a self-confessed liberal, she mentioned she wanted her party “rooted in the centre ground” which suggests that she intends to appeal to discontented Labour voters by modernising Conservatism. Intervention in economic markets, a nod to Ed Miliband through a mention of regulating energy bills and a warning against the predation of big business broke with Conservative traditions as May promised a Britain where “everyone plays by the same rules and every person has the opportunity to be all they want to be.”
Although, this sense of unity and a country that “should work for everyone” that embodied much of her speech can be negatively compared with Amber Rudd’s controversial immigration comments, including requiring companies to reveal their percentage of foreign workers, which has been regarded as “sanctioning a form of racism.”
However, a recent YouGov poll suggests 59% of people agree with Rudd’s proposals including 51% of Labour voters despite Jeremy Corbyn’s comments that his rival party are “fanning the flames of xenophobia and hatred in our communities.” The only group that disagreed was young people as evident uproar it caused on social media. In response, the government made clear that the results would not be publicised.
Ultimately, Theresa May will be judged not on her words on stage but her actions in Parliament and with a lack of strict policy changes discussed in Birmingham, what her premiership will bring over the coming years remains to be seen.