Tory Conference diary: Suella Braverman’s ‘woke warning’, heckler kicked out and Brexit ‘will only get worse’
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Suella Braverman gave her pitch to be the next Conservative leader to a standing ovation at the Tory party conference.
I was in the exhibition hall in Manchester as the Home Secretary spoke for around half an hour - one of the longest Cabinet speeches so far - which was heavy on culture war rhetoric and light on policy. And much of the Tory faithful appeared to enjoy it, with the centre almost full - and activists standing in the aisles.
However, compared to some of her recent speeches, which included the far right tropes of multiculturalism having failed and immigrants causing crime, I thought it was slightly more understated - perhaps with her leadership aspirations in mind.
The speech opened with a montage of British navy boats, migrants and Braverman saying “we will stop the boats”, bizarrely with dance music pumping in the background. The Home Secretary briefly tackled her own family story with typical fiery rhetoric, appearing to try and explain the potential contradiction between her own family’s emigration to the UK and her hard-line policies.
She said: “The wind of change that carried my own parents across the globe in the 20th century was a mere gust compared to the hurricane that is coming.”
Braverman criticised previous politicians - who for the last 13 years have been from her own party - of being “far too squeamish of being smeared as racist to bring order to the chaos”.
And then she got to the only policy announcements of the speech. The first, which got cheers from the Tory faithful, was a seemingly unworkable ban on asylum hotels, which house the current record asylum backlog of almost 200,000 people.
The second, a ban on convicted paedophiles and rapists on changing their gender and names, the first part of which could well be illegal under the equality law.
And so after a brief mention of policy, Braverman got back to her favourite subject - culture wars. She described the notion of white privilege as “poison”, she said under Labour the country would “go properly woke” and described Sir Keir Starmer and “the wealthy establishment” as having pro-immigration “luxury beliefs”. Perhaps she forgot that Rishi Sunak is the wealthiest Prime Minister in history.
It’s clear that Braverman hopes “luxury beliefs” becomes a phrase to attack the Labour leadership with, but hearing it in the conference hall it reminded me of Liz Truss’ “anti-growth coalition” from 12 months earlier - which went absolutely nowhere. It’s not catchy and its meaning isn’t immediately obvious, without considerable explanation.
While a lot of people stood to applaud Braverman at the end, not all Tories were happy with the Home Secretary. During her speech, the leader of London Assembly Conservatives, Andrew Boff, fairly quietly said “there’s no such thing as gender ideology”, and was escorted out of the hall by police. So much for free speech.
Boff told reporters the Home Secretary had been “vilifying” gay people in her speech as he was removed from the Manchester convention centre. Afterwards Braverman said he should be readmitted.
Sitting in front of me in the conference hall was a stony-faced Iain Dale, the LBC presenter who is a prominent Conservative in the media. He didn’t clap Braverman once, and certainly didn’t stand during the ovation.
Before Braverman was Justice Alex Chalk, who, from my seat, appeared to be a competent and impressive speaker. He started with a joke about how Boris Johnson had forgotten his name, when joining Chalk in an election campaign, and was notable for - in a short speech - announcing a couple of eye-catching policies.
Chalk said the government would buy up foreign prison space to combat capacity issues, and said he would bring in Jade’s Law, which would remove parental rights from fathers who murder a child’s mother. The rest of the Conservative conference - with Sunak’s speech still to come - has been noticeable for its lack of policies. Instead ministers have announced bans on non-existent problems such as a supposed meat tax and councils limiting when people can go to the shops.
Earlier in the day I attended an interesting Brexit event about the UK’s future relationship with the EU. Andrea Leadsom was there, and spoke of her positivity at the current trade deal. She said: “I feel incredibly optimistic for not ever closer union with the EU, but neighbourly friendship, with two equally sovereign states.”
However author and journalist Peter Foster, who has written ‘What went wrong with Brexit: and what we can do about it’, said the businesses that he has spoken to would not share Leadsom’s optimism. And that frustration with forms and red tape is exactly what farmers and independent traders have told me.
He explained: “This is going to get harder, not easier. There was a sunk investment in relationships … at the point of Brexit.
“But actually going forward what you need to ask yourself is, does the trade deal we have create the conditions that would make you want to build your high-end manufacturing plant in the UK? It is going to get harder, not easier, to buy stuff from Peter in Brighton, rather than Pedro in Barcelona.”
And in fact, Foster was vindicated, as later in the talk a woman working for a German chemical company said her bosses did not want to invest in the UK due to uncertainty.