The Westminster/Conference shuffle commences today, with Parliament sitting as the Conservative Party Conference rolls along simultaneously. If anyone wants advice on getting access to Ministers, have you considered taking thetrain up and down from London to Manchester all day Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday? Well every department is sending one Minister to be in London each day, going down in the morning and back up at night, so you will likely bump into a lot of them…
The Government were adamant that Conference would go ahead even though it has no constitutional significance in the Party – unlike the other Parties, policies do not get decided by members at Tory Party Conference. So thereason they were keen for it to go ahead was purely political; Parties almost always get a bounce in the polls after their own Conference. The issue is, for that trend to hold in this case, Johnson and his Government need to get theheadlines on to a wider Conservative vision, and away from other rather less flattering matters.
Johnson is now on the defensive on many, many fronts. Controversy about his language and approach to Brexit continues, but his problems are greater than just that now. The allegations of corruption surrounding his relationship with Jennifer Arcuri whilst serving as Mayor of London is a story with legs and momentum, and Johnson’s denial on Andrew Marr that there was any interest to declare might come back to bite him. On top of this, the sexual harassment allegations against Johnson in The Times will not be easy for him to shrug off, try as he might. It is the same allegation that caused the former Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon to resign after all.
But for all of that noise outside, here in Manchester, inside the secure zone, thePrime Minister remains a rock star. Walking through the bar last night, he was cheered by the assembled drinkers. That never happened with Theresa May. The headlines matter not to them, Boris will “get Brexit done”, as he keeps repeating, and he continues to be able to reach the parts of the Conservative membership that no-one else can.