MANCHESTER, United Kingdom – Today Britain’s ruling Conservative Party gathers for its annual conference in the city of Manchester. Business cards will be exchanged, platitudes spoken and (cheap) prosecco quaffed, but will there be any serious, intellectual conservatism?
My first stop this morning was Holy Mass at St Chad’s Church – also known as the Manchester Oratory – where the preacher spoke strongly on the indissolubility of marriage before half-jokingly asking if there were any conference delegates in the congregation.
“Not that you’d know,” he said, “because they’ve asked to hide their labels in case they’re torn to pieces in the street by members of the trade union movement!”
Why do I mention this? Because it’s probably the most conservative thing I’ll hear all week.
This conference will have little to nothing to do with conservatism but a lot to do with short-term strategy, business lobbying, cynical positioning and, of course, Europe.
Looking through the fringe guide you could be forgiven for thinking the party has something of a complex. Almost every other event has something to do with the European Union (EU) and why we should stay/leave/do something in between.
“Can Cameron win in Europe?”, “How can Cameron change Europe?”, “Life after the EU”, “An optimistic vision of a post-EU Britain”, “Challenging the supremacy of EU law”, “What does Britain want from the EU?”…
The list goes on.
It’s almost as if the shadow of UKIP looms large over the Tory conscience, even if the delegates here would never admit it.
Meanwhile, a different shadow gathers on the streets of Manchester. At the time of writing, the huddled masses of the unwashed left are preparing to protest, shouting their old clichés, proclaiming a futile revolution that will never come.
One common placard says “We are the many. They are the few.” Yeah, right.
They will come, shout abuse and go, and no matter how “reinvigorated” they feel by the new Labour leader they will remain largely irrelevant to the majority of people.
The real question is whether anyone here can express with any clarity what it means to be a conservative. Let’s not hold our breath.