A Tale of Two Conferences: Who’ll be dancing the final waltz?

Written by Evan Byrne, Senior Account Executive, Energy Practice

Theresa May walking onto stage to ABBA’s Dancing Queen has drawn considerable attention as the ‘Maybot’ showed off her robotic dance moves.

What was most interesting about the choice of song wasn’t the dancing, but the lyric: “having the time of your life” – Theresa May certainly isn’t.

And worryingly for the Tories, Jeremy Corbyn might seem to be.

Labour’s Conference last week was seen by many quarters of the media to be a major success. Labour announced a raft of domestic policies that have been widely interpreted as its declaration of its intent to enter Government.

The Conservative leadership’s reaction to Labour’s success has been a policy holding pattern.

Cabinet members making no major announcements to an often empty conference hall, is a stark contrast to the speeches delivered by members of the Shadow Cabinet in Liverpool over a week ago.

Alarming for the Tory leadership was the 1,500 strong audience for Boris Johnson’s fringe event – worse still was the positive reception to the speech from the room.

There is no denying that Johnson has naked leadership ambitions. But one can understand his appeal amongst the increasingly pro-Brexit membership of the party, with his call to “chuck Chequers”, the Prime Minister’s proposed Brexit plan.

Johnson issued his own personal policy platform, championing the free market and low taxes, and calling for a return to “basic Conservative ideas and values”. In doing so, Johnson addressed a common criticism of the May Premiership: that there are no new ideas, it is too cautious, it lacks ambition.

And while Brexit is indeed one of the biggest endeavours embarked upon by any Government in this country, there are other issues that the Government cannot simply ignore: the housing crisis, health and social care, decarbonisation and climate change to name a few. It is clear that much of the general public wants to move on from Brexit, and quickly.

Labour – no matter how outlandish many of its policies seem to be – at least appeared to want to tackle these issues.

May’s speech made an effort to bridge the gap with announcements that the Tories will scrap the cap on local authority borrowing to enable more house building, and it would ‘end austerity’. But the speech was not a fountain of new policies. May spent much of it on unity within the Party, her Brexit plan (even though she did not once refer to it as ‘Chequers’), and criticising Labour. Even though many consider her speech to be one of her best ever, she remains in survival mode.

So as Conference season draws to a close, the contrast between Corbyn and May is stark – while both have visions for the country, one has a large and growing supporter base and is completely secure as leader of their party. The other position is much more precarious – and happens to be the Prime Minister.

For how much longer is now surely the question.