In most spheres of life, whether in politics or business or anything else, when trying to predict what will happen in an uncertain situation you usually have some kind of solid foundation from which to project. The thing that makes it so hard to forecast where things will go with parliament and Brexit is that there are no firm assumptions from which to build. The combination of the PM’s determination to hold an election, Labour’s refusal to do so until no deal is off the table combined with the SNP’s newfound resolve to topple Boris Johnson potentially takes this uncertainty to new heights, or depths. Could we see Conservative MPs whipped to vote that they do not have confidence in their government, and the official Opposition whipped to vote that they do?
Correspondents are supposed opine on “the mood of the conference”, so for what it’s worth, the atmosphere seems to me to be pretty cheerful, even though it hasn’t stopped raining in Manchester since we all arrived. That was certainly the activists at the annual meeting of the National Conservative Convention, where activists gather on Sunday morning to grill the powers that be, including the PM. “I think we’re in a pretty good mood,” Boris observed, and not just because we were “full of beans after our lavish hotel breakfasts.” The real reason was that this was “one of those times in history when the Conservative Party really knows what it’s all about.” Getting Brexit done was not the only thing on the government’s agenda, he would be talking about spreading opportunity, which in turn meant the rollout of gigabit broadband: “It will be sprouting through like vermicelli, or something. I don’t know how it works or what it looks like but it’s going to be fantastic.”
Not everyone is so ebullient, however. Former Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt warned a CPS fringe meeting dedicated to the subject of Britain After Brexit that things could still get worse. “MPs are about to move out of their building and spend billions refurbishing it, while not every tower block has been re-clad after Grenfell. If you think things are bad now, we haven’t seen anything yet.” But ultimately, we should be optimistic and take the long view: “Only history is neat and tidy. Living through it is messy.”
“It would be fun,” chortled Ken Clarke when asked by the BBC’s Nick Robinson if he fancied being Prime Minister of “government of national unity.” I doubt it would be as much fun as he thinks. But be that as it may, as 1922 Committee Chairman Sir Graham Brady puts it, “all the people suggested as members of such a government seem to represent the minority view of the country. Which is a very odd idea of national unity.” Indeed.
Kate Hoey, Labour MP for Vauxhall, received a heroine’s welcome when she spoke at a Policy Exchange meeting on the Irish backstop. It was her first time at the annual Tory gathering: “I must say it’s a much better dressed party conference than I’m used to.” She said she had been sceptical about the burst of expertise and concern that had emanated from fellow Labour members since the border became an issue: “It’s been interesting to hear so many of my colleagues expounding on Irish affairs when they previously hadn’t a clue where Belfast was.” She furiously rejected the argument that the wrong border arrangements could promote terrorism: “It makes me so angry that we could shape our policy on the economy and everything else on a few criminal thug dissidents.” The Chief Constable “should be saying we’re going to get these people and put them away.”
DUP leader Arlene Foster was asked if she trusted the Prime Minister. “It’s funny, I’m often asked ‘do I trust Boris Johnson?’ but I was never asked ‘do I trust Theresa May?’ and frankly I should have been.” People often made the same mistake with her party, she said: “The thing about the DUP is that when we set out our position, that’s our position.” But if it came to a vote of confidence, “putting Jeremy Corbyn into government is not something the DUP will ever be accused of.” For Corbyn to be “talking about the rule of law when he supported a party who were quite happy to see judges killed in Northern Ireland is really quite something.”