I asked members at the Conservative Party Conference what they thought of the PM, Brexit, and the next election
The Labour Party Conference concluded with Jeremy Corbyn putting members “on notice” for a 2017 general election and hoping to win it with ‘21st century socialism’. Following my opinion piece on the taboo of socialism, I expected to go to the Conservative Party Conference, in Birmingham, and be greeted by the Tories, arrogant with power, without much complaint from the general public in regards to a new Prime Minister.
Yet, sitting through day one of conference, I was reminded of how historic this period (with regards to Brexit) could prove to be. And in this historic period, with the conference season in the midst of it, I met one disgruntled Conservative, and tens of disgruntled Labour voters and politicians.
I felt as though I had to go and find another upset Tory. That evening, at the West Midlands fringe event, I spoke to Councillors Linda and Peter Hailstones, who serve on the Newcastle-under-Lyme borough council. I asked them if they thought Corbyn could win a general election: “I don’t think so.” I asked Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation, and Skills, what he thought of Corbyn: “It’s obvious,” was all he had to reply.
These people did not seem bothered about Corbyn. The reason why? He is trying to make socialism appeal to a centre ground. But, in this political space, people are more interested in what the Conservatives will define Brexit as.
Yet the Conservatives have not underestimated Corbyn. In fact, Thomas Coffey, Selly Oak’s Conservative candidate for next year’s local council elections, told me, “we’ve got the majority. Why risk it? I don’t underestimate Labour at all […] I trust the country wouldn’t make that decision. But I wouldn’t writehim off.”
The Conservatives I spoke to did not believe another general election was necessary. I ask Fin Young, working on the Conservative Youth Outreach stall, who told me it is “not necessary […] It’d be irresponsible, frankly.” He tells me how the country following Brexit needs “a period of certainty. A general election would do the opposite.”
Peter Aldous, MP for Waveney, initially told me that he thinks the next general election will be in 2020 because Theresa May has been, “so unequivocal in what she said about the next election being in 2020, that I think she’ll be having to seriously eat her words if she didn’t.”
But Mr Aldous describes Mrs May’s government as a completely ‘new government’, rather than a repackaging. Surely, we should have a general election to grant her a mandate then, I ask? “[…] I think people are probably a bit fatigued. Probably in the sense we’ve had this referendum, now get on with it. […] I don’t detect any appetite for an election both in Westminster and in the country.” I think he is right.
I asked him why Corbyn put his members ‘on notice’ at the end of Labour Party Conference. “I think as a politician, that when you’re in opposition you have to say that. [If you] don’t say bring it on, someone, people will wonder what on earth you’re doing.”
So I begin to ask when the next election will be. Both Sajid Javid and Andy West, the Conservative West Midlands Mayoral candidate refuse to comment. Most junior members told me 2020.
At least the Conservatives are seemingly unanimous in regards to the popularity of their new leader. At the West Midlands fringe event, it was to my surprise to meet the PM as she entered the room. Older Conservatives made use of their smartphone cameras for the first time, whereas younger members insisting on talking to her. Even I asked for, and was granted, a handshake. Councillor Omer Kokou-Tchri, who serves on the Epsom & Ewell Borough Council, told me “I love her! […] She’s one of the most powerful ladies I’ve seen.”
I asked Peter Aldous what he thinks is coming up for Theresa May: “Obviously much of it will focus around Brexit.” I ask him if he thinks it will make or break her. “I think it could certainly make her. As far as breaking, an awful lot does depend on the state of the opposition. Obviously Brexit is an issue. Maintaining Britain continuing to look outwards and play a role on a world stage and be a trading nation, economically, is a challenge” He goes on to list the NHS, the education system, and infrastructure (the latter two in regards to productivity) as areas that need to be focused on.
Ultimately, as I sat in Birmingham for the final hour I pondered on the timing of Article 50 being activated by March, perhaps in timing with a May general election. Could Theresa May be holding off to give the country a rest after the referendum that Peter Aldous referred to, and then have an election in May 2017 in order to allow the general public to choose what type of Brexit they want? That would be the democratic thing. But I am sure that if we do get a general election in May of 2017, it will not be for those reasons.