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The Conservative conference can’t take its eyes off Farage

Your dose of gossip from the Manchester Central Convention Complex.

By Kevin Maguire

Spiritual leader of the 2023 Conservative Party Nigel Farage enjoyed a selfie welcome as he rode Rishi Sunak’s train crash in Manchester. The Thatcherite Brextremist was hailed a messiah by swooning right-whingers on a first visit to his old party’s conference for 36 years. The former home secretary Priti Patel thanked Farage for everything he’d done for the Tories and called him to his feet to enjoy rapturous applause at the Sunak-hostile Conservative Democratic Organisation’s gala dinner. It was attended by 50 MPs including two of the party’s deputy chairs, “30p Lee” Anderson and Jack Lopresti. Rejoin, and Farage could find himself a future leader.

[See also: The new Conservative Party is being born]

The other gatecrasher at Sunak’s party was the PM’s predecessor, Liz Truss. Her burly press handler decreed she wouldn’t answer any questions before or after a speech to the salivating crowd that upstaged Jeremy Hunt’s effort. Sticking to the script avoids reality.

Launching an audacious bid to be the Tories’ loopiest MP, Danny “Freddy” Kruger had heads nodding with a claim about a global conspiracy to create a “world government” and impose progressive policies on nations. Brextremists are working hard to replace EU bogeymen and bogeywomen. The “deep state” is everywhere.

Talking of 30p Lee, the Ashfield loudmouth didn’t have anything to say on “Can the Tories win?” – the title of a meeting held by the think tank the Bruges Group, at which Anderson failed to appear. It’s not his only recent no-show: the leashed attack dog cited a stomach bug a few months ago when he missed a New Conservatives bash, where Kruger demanded Sunak get tougher on immigration. Meanwhile, Anderson’s tweet in July backing his fellow GB News presenter Dan Wootton “in his hour of need” hasn’t aged well.

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Trouble at t’Tory mill in Manchester, where caterers launched a lightning strike: service at food outlets halted for a short time in the dispute over payments. Hard cheese for anti-union activists?

The august Graham Brady was not the toast of the 1922 Committee bash, where the drinks were hard to come by. Grumbling MPs were forced to queue for half an hour and many missed Sunak’s speech. My snout at the reception reckoned they were lucky. He heard the boilerplate forced jokes and optimism.

Contender for the week’s most awkward moment is Michael Gove attempting to kiss Patel on the cheek, lips pursed like a plumber’s plunger. The terror on her face suggested she’d prefer dancing with Farage, which she later did at a party. The right in British politics is one big problem family.

[See also: Suella Braverman’s luxury hostilities]

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This article appears in the 04 Oct 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Labour in Power