The importance of party conferences is often overstated. The political class gather for a few days, and their levels of self-obsession reach new heights. What is said in the hotel bars of Birmingham, Manchester or Liverpool suddenly feels the most important thing in the world. And then everyone goes back home, within a couple of days forgets what was said and life moves on. How much the general public even notice any of this is highly open to question.
But this year’s Conservative Conference feels different. Not for a long time has a Prime Minister arrived at their conference with so little known about what they believe and what they plan to do with their Premiership. The nature of her ascent to the top job, taking over with 48 hours’ notice when Andrea Leadsom quit the leadership contest, means Theresa May never set out a vision and policy platform in the way a general election or a leadership contest would have forced.
So this week’s conference is huge for her. It’s her first and best chance to imprint upon the electorate what Theresa May is all about. We know she is committed to Brexit, but in what form? We know she wants to develop an industrial strategy, but what does that even mean? And we know she does not feel wedded to George Osborne’s deficit reduction plans, but just what is her alternative fiscal strategy?
This week she needs to start to answer all of these questions and many more besides. And to be fair to the new PM, she has hit the ground running with big news on a “Great Repeal Bill” and a target for triggering Article 50 already revealed before lunchtime on the first day of the conference. She will confirm these in her first conference speech this afternoon, but the even bigger moment comes on Wednesday lunchtime with her main conference address. In this she will surely seek to move beyond Brexit and paint the bigger picture about her vision for Britain.
Many conferences are little more than political froth. This one, on the other hand, needs to be full of substance, and we’re pretty confident it will be. Enjoy…