From Croydon to the Tory conference and back again


By - Thursday 15th October, 2015

Local Conservative Robert Ward headed up north for his party’s conference this year, and kept an eye on matters affecting Croydon


Photo by Conservatives. Used under Creative Commons licence.

You may have noticed party conference season has ended. Not the highlight of your year, perhaps, nor indeed mine. But as a new member of the Conservative Party, I had signed up in February assuming there would either be an election victory to celebrate, or a new leader if we lost.

So it came to pass that I arrived at a busy Manchester station showing more evidence of the Rugby World Cup than the Tory party conference. A short walk to the hotel, a swift unpacking and I was ready to go.

By now there was more evidence of Tories in town. The TUC demonstration was gathering. Several thousand were marching past. They were going my way so I joined them, checking my bright blue security pass was well-hidden.

while I saw none of the spitting or egg throwing that earned national attention, I can easily believe it took place

It was mostly trade unionists with a few single-interest groups like the anti-frackers, they marched along chanting slogans. A few rattled buckets soliciting contributions without success.

Closer to the venue I attempted to separate myself from the throng. The police had other ideas, so it was only at the entrance to what Boris Johnson called the Khyber Pass that I broke away. Here maybe a hundred less friendly demonstrators had stationed themselves, setting a pattern for the week.

For the twenty meters of the Khyber Pass, we were sworn and gestured at. I was blocked at its entry point and called a psychopath, a liar and a thief, accompanied by suitable profanities. The police pulled me through, and while I saw none of the spitting or egg throwing that earned national attention, I can easily believe it took place. The whole experience was like being an away fan escorted from the ground following victory over a team with less than savoury fans.

Gatwick is far from out of the race for airport capacity in the south-east

Inside it felt like a trade fair – marquees for big players, booths for smaller ones, main hall for the big speeches. Delegates were mostly suited, with a minority (including me) more casual. My first impression, bolstered by later experience, was that this was a group of people there to influence and be influenced more than to listen and learn. My award for optimist of the week was a Tory activist who tried to get David Cameron to sign a copy of Lord Ashcroft’s less-than-flattering book.

The events were many and various, and frequently two or three of interest to me were on at the same time: energy, housing, transport, diversity, devolution and more. I chose to attend those which had most relevance to Croydon.

My personal impression is that Gatwick is far from out of the race for airport capacity in the south-east. The end year date for an announcement still looks likely, although an argument (excuse?) that the Volkswagen scandal might necessitate a delay was treated with more seriousness than I thought it deserved.

Croydon was mentioned on the main stage by the inspirational Elroy Palmer from the St Giles Trust

The announcement by David Cameron on ‘affordable’ housing rule changes occurred just as my recent Citizen article was published. This may mean a rethink of the draft Croydon Local Plan.

Michael Gove was more visible this week than he has been for some time. During his session, Croydon was mentioned on the main stage when the inspirational Elroy Palmer from the St Giles Trust recalled Croydon as where he first worked with ex-offenders. Prison reform, and especially improving our appalling re-offending rates, is clearly a priority.

Observing the media and the politicians was as interesting as participating in fringe meetings and listening in the main conference hall. I had thought that outside the Westminster bubble both might seek to interact with outsiders. However, it was more that they brought the Westminster bubble with them.

Our democracy encourages protest, which to be effective needs to make our opponents uncomfortable

Surprising by its almost complete absence was any discussion about Labour, and Jeremy Corbyn in particular. Some ‘Corbyn currency’ and the late addition of a fringe session on how to respond to Corbyn were about it. It was all about the Conservative agenda for Britain and how to achieve it.

A thought provoking angle came from non-political organisations who had also attended the Labour Conference. The differences they highlighted were interesting, but most interesting of all was their impression, gleaned from senior Labour figures, that Jeremy Corbyn himself does not intend to remain beyond 2018, and that most of the shadow cabinet think he will not last that long.

A last word on the demonstrations: our democracy encourages protest, which to be effective needs to make our opponents uncomfortable. The question is where the line is drawn and which of swearing, gesturing, blocking people’s path, spitting and egging are permissible and which aren’t. Wherever you judge the line should be drawn, then it should be drawn for everyone.

What is not okay is to condemn, say, spitting ‘in principle’ and spitting at, say, journalists whilst carefully avoiding condemning spitting at the group of people who are actually being spat at. Attendees of the Tory Party conference, like me, be we from Croydon, Dudley or Hartlepool. Spitting at us is many things. It isn’t straight talking honest politics.

Robert Ward

Robert Ward

Engineer and project manager specialised in helping businesses make better strategic decisions and improve safety, quality and effectiveness. Conservative Party Councillor representing Selsdon and Addington Village on Croydon Council. He tweets as @moguloilman.

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  • Anne Giles

    Spitting and/or egging people is never permissible. It is an assault. The people who were behaving in that way were anarchists, not Labour.

  • http://www.pearshapedcomedy.com Anthony Miller

    “Spitting at us is many things. It isn’t straight talking honest politics.”

    Spitting seems to me to be a little too honest but if it hits you that’s assault not protest. Swearing in the street comes under the draconian Public Order Act although I can call you rude words on stage and it’s not a crime because that’s art but if I film it and upload it to YouTube it’s potentially a crime under section 127 of the Communications Act. Go figure…