The Tory Party conference this year showed just how bad things now are for the old establishment, with madness in the hall and strong opposition to Toryism and the government outside.
On the Sunday, despite the bad weather, thousands turned out in central Manchester to protest outside the conference as it got underway. Called by the People’s Assembly Against Austerity, and supported by the Labour Party, trade unions and countless other campaigning groups, the protesters demanded an end to Tory rule and to their sickening austerity policies.
Although the incessant rain threatened to dampen spirits, instead it only hardened the sense of defiance.
Amidst a sea of red flags, and accompanied by a large Karl Marx puppet which Manchester Momentum had fundraised to build, the chants rang loudly against Boris Johnson’s gang of reactionaries, calling for a Corbyn-led Labour government to replace it.
The rally which took place at the end of the march included speakers such as Richard Burgon MP, Laura Pidcock MP, Angela Rayner MP, and TUC general secretary Francis O’Grady. Many drew attention to the devastating effect of austerity policies on the working class and the poor, highlighting the weakness of the Tory government and the need to campaign for a general election and a Labour government to end austerity.
The march was also joined by groups protesting the occupation of Kashmir by the Modi government. At the same time, another far smaller “Stop Brexit” demonstration by middle-class Lib-Dem elements took place. It was clear from the composition of the two demos that the labour movement march gained resonance with the working class of Manchester by targeting the Tory’s austerity policies and calling for a general election as the only way to solve the current crisis.
Socialist Appeal supporters from Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool and Sheffield were joined by the Marxist Student Federation as we marched enthusiastically to chants for a socialist Labour government, and for a revolution to end capitalism, singing the Internationale as we went.
The anti-Tory protest on Sunday (and on other days, with the protest by jobless Thomas Cook workers being especially relevant) reflected the real mood of society and the problems faced daily by millions of working class people, young and old, working and unemployed, students and pensioners. However, none of that reality penetrated into the conference hall – it never does for the Conservatives.
Tory conference – which never actually decides anything – has traditionally been the place where the hysterical ranks of the party faithful come together to be told they matter even though the hierarchy know they don’t, except as election fodder of course. The more rabid the speech from the platform, the more this rabble of buffoons cheer. Meanwhile, behind the scenes the Tory leadership laugh and then meet with representatives of capital for the real business to be conducted.
This year however things are different. The traditional Conservative establishment have been pushed aside and the reactionary elements from the clearly-decayed remains of the Tory Party now have their own people in place, personified in the form of Boris Johnson. This character has been useless and self-serving in every job he has been gifted. Yet now he stands glowing in the adoration of the Tory faithful.
Meanwhile almost everybody who matters had found excuses to stay away this time round, many taking advantage of the fact that parliament was still sitting and in any case the weather was poor. Even the press were bored, except by the daily Boris scandal and the strange incident of an obscure MP being thrown out of the conference centre for fighting staff, just before the annual law-and-order rant from the platform. Virtually no policies were announced – it was all just Brexit, Brexit, Brexit.
The conference ended with a rabble-rousing rant from Johnson, again short in content (apart from a coded threat of further privatisation in the NHS) and appealing to the worst elements in the hall – and beyond – to back him in the coming fight with parliament and with Labour. He presented his latest (and much leaked) “final” EU deal even though he already suspects that it has no chance of being picked up – a leave it or leave it deal it seems. He will be quite happy with that however.
Meanwhile, big business and the establishment will be tearing their hair out over how things are going as a no-deal Brexit looms ever closer. When Johnson told the conference “we are ready” for a no-deal Brexit (apart from the food shortages, lorry queques, etc. as outlined in the Yellowhammer report) they all cheered – this is what they want.
Johnson is copying Trump in presenting himself as a anti-establishment voice of the people. The trouble for him is that, unlike the US where Trump faced Clinton, he will be up against someone in Corbyn who really is anti-establishment and really speaks up for the people, not the hedge-fund managers, dodgy business types and Tory relics. That is the spectre which haunted this Tory conference, one which will not go away. Workers and youth will take one thing from the Manchester conference: The Tories must be booted out!