Britain’s “best days lie ahead”, Theresa May declared this week as she sought to rally the party faithful in Birmingham and show that the Tories have an agenda beyond Brexit. The Prime Minister, who danced on to the stage to the strains of Abba’s Dancing Queen, unveiled several new initiatives. They include plans to charge foreign buyers a stamp duty surcharge, with the proceeds used to help the homeless; to ban restaurants from taking a cut of staff tips; and to curb the number of low-skilled workers entering Britain under a new immigration system that no longer offers preferential access to EU workers.
Despite efforts to put on a display of unity, Brexit inevitably overshadowed the conference, causing fresh ructions. In his hotly anticipated speech, Boris Johnson condemned May’s Chequers plan as a “cheat”; he also urged the Tories to build more houses and to return to the core Conservative agenda of delivering low taxes, and law and order. Johnson’s successor as Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, was accused of auditioning for the leadership after he compared the EU to the Soviet Union and accused it of trying to “punish” the UK for leaving.
What the editorials said
“Pity the disaffected British voter who looks to the autumn conferences for inspiration,” said The Economist. The big parties remain “hypnotised” by Brexit. Still, there are signs that some politicians are at least starting to address Britain’s other problems. That may be true of Labour, said The Guardian, but there has been precious little sign of fresh ideas on the Tory side. The lack of vision was summed up by their vapid conference slogan: “Opportunity.” The party needs “substantive new thinking”, but that’s not coming from either May or Johnson.
Johnson did bring some “much-needed vigour” to an otherwise rather flat conference, said The Daily Telegraph. And his full-throated defence of the market economy was welcome. Whether he is “preparing a leadership bid or has passed his political sell-by date, as some of his erstwhile colleagues suggest, his speech showed why his party needs him in a front-line role”. Johnson’s bickering colleagues should take the fight to Labour in the same way, said The Times, because the Tories do have a good story to tell. Nearly 3.5 million new jobs (net) have been created since 2010; unemployment is at its lowest rate since the mid-1970s; income inequality has fallen over the past eight years. These are achievements to “be proud of”.