The third leg of our conference relay sees us heading to Birmingham, where Conservative Party conference will take place. Last time we spend an autumnal week in Birmingham with the Conservatives we were just a few months away from a general election. With a new Prime Minister and the party riding high in the polls, could this be a case of déjà vu?
A lot has changed within the Conservative Party since last year’s conference. After securing a majority at the 2015 general election, David Cameron pushed ahead with a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU. Despite earlier statements from those on both sides of the referendum divide Cameron’s position was never tenable if he was on the losing side of the referendum. When the votes were counted, it was clear he was going to go.
At first, the Conservatives planned a leadership contest over the summer. That process was quickly truncated by events. First of all, Michael Gove’s surprise candidacy saw presumed frontrunner Boris Johnson fail to stand. After two votes Gove, Liam Fox and Stephen Crabb had fallen by the wayside. A contest between Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom failed to materialise, however, as Leadsom dropped out of the race allowing May to become the new party leader and Prime Minister before Parliament had even broken for summer recess.
May quickly set about appoint the new government. Out went a number of high-profile figures from the Cameron years, including George Osborne, Gove and Nicky Morgan. Promotions saw the announcement of a new top team made up of May, Philip Hammond (Chancellor), Andrea Leadsom (Home Secretary) and Boris Johnson, who came back from the political wilderness in the space of just days to become the new Foreign Secretary.
In her first comments outside 10 Downing Street upon becoming Prime Minister, May set out an agenda grounded in concepts of aspiration and social justice. One of her challenges, however, will be ensuring the delivery of a comprehensive domestic policy programme and ensuring that her government does not become dominated by Brexit.
The initial polls suggest that there is significant support for May as Prime Minister, and that she compares favourably to other party leaders. May has been quick to play down the prospects of an early election – both during the leadership contest and since becoming Prime Minister – but it is unlikely that her team have not debated the merits of going to the country. After all, in politics events can quickly turn a position of strength to weakness, as Gordon Brown discovered in 2007 with the ‘election-that-never-was.’
As a majority government, May and her team can set the political weather. Many charities will be watching conference season closing to develop a better sense of where priorities will lie, and what policies look likely to be introduced. The uncertainty of Brexit also looms large, and Conservative Party conference offers an opportunity for organisations to develop a better guide as to what it is likely to mean for them.
We’ll again be exploring these issues – and more – both on our stand and at our fringe. We’ll be at stand 39 from Sunday-Wednesday where we’ll be challenging people to find out how charities can help clear the hurdles that we face, and see who can earn a gold medal.
We’ll also be holding a fringe event where representatives from the party of government will be given the opportunity to explore the opportunities and challenges that the political climate poses for charities. The next few years will see the development of a new settlement for Britain, and our event intends to address the role that charities can play in this.
Join us for:
Team GB: How can charities and government make Britain stronger?
1745-1900, Tuesday 4th October
Hall 2b, ICC, Birmingham