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  1. Election 2024
2 October 2019

The subtext of the Tory conference is “It Stands To Reason”

There is no preconceived notion too daft to pander to.

By Stephen Bush

I’ve been trying to work out what the atmosphere at this conference reminds me of, and I’ve cracked it: it’s the Liberal Democrats in Bournemouth in 2015, or Labour in 2010 (also in Manchester, as it happens). It’s a party that is sneakily, quietly, happy not to have to trouble itself with the hard contours of policy reality anymore.

The umbrella slogan of this conference is Get Brexit Done but the subtext is It Stands To Reason. It stands to reason that we send too many people to university. It stands to reason that the only language criminals understand is the hang ‘em and flog ‘em approach of Priti Patel.  It stands to reason that no deal is nothing to worry about. 

No preconceived notion too daft to pander to. Boris Johnson will use his speech to do two things: to announce more financial giveways and to unveil his proposals on the Irish border, which if the full reality resembles the leaks will be unworkable. Both will be cheered to the rafters. 

Of course, the crucial difference between then and now is that the Conservatives haven’t left office and might not leave it for some time – although in quiet corners, it doesn’t take long for the odd MP, a special advisor, or even a cabinet minister to wonder if this electoral strategy is putting them on a one-way road to electoral disaster. 

Are they right? The risk, still, is that, when push comes to shove, they can’t make up what they lose to the Liberal Democrats with what they lose to Labour. But my hunch – and it’s just a hunch – Is that this approach is going to do well enough, thanks to our electoral system and the divided and unpopular opposition, to get the Conservatives back in.

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The problem then of course, is that no deal is something to worry about. And that while you can campaign successfully on a bunch of unworkable stuff, you can’t govern on it. 

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