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The Conservative Party's In A Right State

10/10/2016 16:36

The state is making a comeback. Or at least that seemed to be one of the more pervasive messages coming out of Birmingham.

Aside from the phrase "Brexit means Brexit" being bandied about there was another, and that was "strategy." Much was made, at a number of this year's fringe events, about the new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) - in particular the new incorporation of industrial strategy into its title. BEIS Ministers were doing the rounds of the labyrinthine ICC to extol the government's plans for a number of industry sectors.

This represents a marked change in the Conservative Party's language around state intervention, especially the role of the PM. David Cameron was often said to have a 'chairman-like' approach to management, it looks like Theresa May is going to be a hands-on CEO. Not only is she chairing the various No 10 policy boards, she also made it clear in her closing speech that the state is coming back in a fairly big way.

Her commitments to come after big businesses, her earnest pledges to support the "working class", and criticism of the Conservative "libertarian right", point to a more interventionist government ahead.
Yet despite some of her criticism of the Party's libertarian elements, there was little evidence of any division at this year's Conservative Party Conference, perhaps surprising given this was a party wrought with division only a few months ago.

There was instead an atmosphere of unity, and indeed a quiet determination to get on with the job at hand. Well, mostly quiet; there was a joyous moment where Jacob Rees-Mogg was addressing a hall full of young Conservatives where he used the now often repeated adage that "Brexit means Brexit." But Jacob could only get as far as the first "Brexit" before the entire crowd chanted back to him "means Brexit!". Which led to the surreal moment where he then asked the crowd what "points mean" which of course got the response "prizes." Not that I think he's probably ever watched an episode of Play Your Cards Right.

The serious point was there was no doubting the Conservative Party's commitment to seeing the Referendum result through. Perhaps no surprise given the vast majority of the Party faithful voted for Leave.

But if the language of this year's Conference was anything to go by, it's not just the UK's people who have "taken back control", it looks like the government plans to do the same. Energy, health, housing, the Conservative Party has plans for all. Time will obviously tell how hands-on they will be, but expect the changes to be incremental. As Jesse Norman MP, one of the new BEIS Ministers, said to one crowd, "there will be no great reveal."

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