Suella Braverman’s conference speech on Tuesday did not mark a new low for the Conservatives. It is the new normal, perfectly in line with the values of many party members, and was applauded on the front page of the Daily Mail. One government source said that Number 10 had approved her speech “line by line”. Some of the more moderate Tories have accused her of stoking a culture war, and one wondered if this was clever politics from Sunak, “giving her enough rope” to go too far so he could sack her.
This is just wishful thinking. Sunak himself gave a speech on Net Zero recently that attacked Labour for being too woke. He inveighed against a tax on meat that nobody had proposed, and the man who takes private jets whenever he can tried to promote himself as the friend of downtrodden motorists against climate change zealots.
He has suggested that Farage would be welcome in the Tory party and is relaxed about government spokespersons spouting utter rubbish that would have got them fired in a previous age. So deputy party chairman, Lee Andersen, gets away with saying that the benefit system is too nice to claimants and ADHD is caused by bad parenting. Environment Secretary, Therese Coffey, thinks there is a war on farmers producing meat. Energy Secretary, Clare Coutinho, doubled down on the lie that Starmer is in favour of a meat tax. Transport Secretary, Mark Harper, attacked so-called 15-minute cities, a plan for urban regeneration by making urban centres more friendly to pedestrians and cyclists, as a plot by “local councils to decide how often you can go to the shops”.
This is a deliberate strategy to appeal to the far right and the conspiracy theorists, and turn the Conservative Party into a UK version of Trump’s Republican Party. They have little hope of winning the next election but are calculating that, with the Labour left marginalised by Starmer, and the centre parties having no policies to deal with the crisis of capitalism, whoever wins the election is doomed to failure, and then their own ‘smash and grab’ style of politics will bring them back into power.
Meanwhile, Labour’s response has been pitiable. Yvette Cooper did not denounce Braverman’s hate speech — instead, she complained that it “was devoid of practical policies”. Labour is in favour of forcing people off benefits and into work and refuses to commit to lifting the sanctions regime at the DWP. They condemn the failure of the Tories’ immigration policy, not its inhumanity.
We should learn from Trump. He got away with lying about everything. Fact-checking after the event cut no ice — he spoke to people’s prejudices. They remembered the slogans and disregarded the evidence. If we are to stop the seemingly inexorable rightward drift of politics in the UK, we need to speak to people’s better nature, their compassion and humanity. We need politics with a moral compass instead of an electoral calculus.
So, will the Labour Party conference be any better? In 1962, Harold Wilson told conference that the Labour Party “is a moral crusade or it is nothing”, and we can expect nothing in Liverpool next week.