Tory Conference Attracts Plenty Of Protesters As Police Watch On

Officers say any action they've taken aims to "facilitate peaceful protest".
Protesters march during a rally ahead of the Conservative Party annual conference at Manchester Central. Picture date: Sunday October 1, 2023.
Protesters march during a rally ahead of the Conservative Party annual conference at Manchester Central. Picture date: Sunday October 1, 2023.
Peter Byrne - PA Images via Getty Images

Demonstrators have flocked to Manchester to protest the annual Tory conference, and some have already lamented the police presence.

The four-day conference, to be attended by the prime minister Rishi Sunak, cabinet members and Conservative MPs, will see debates and keynote speeches take place across the city.

Despite being the eighth Tory annual conference to be held in Manchester city centre since 2009, it doesn’t look like party members got much of a warm reception on Sunday.

Campaign group The People’s Assembly organised a “national demonstration” and “festival of resistance” across the city to welcome the party delegates over the weekend.

Police were aware of the incoming protesters – Greater Manchester Police (GMP) Assistance Chief constable Chris Sykes said ahead of the march that they were “expecting a number of peaceful demonstrations” over the week, and were looking for “minimal disruption to the wider public”.

He added that his force “will always seek to facilitate the right to peacefully protest, we will not stand for any incidents of intimidation or abuse. Officers will take swift, appropriate action against anyone breaking the law.”

Videos of the event prove that Sunday’s march was quite popular...

After the protest, Greater Manchester Police posted on X (formerly Twitter): “The planned protest march and rally reached a peaceful conclusion, with no arrests made.

“Thank you to everyone who played a role in facilitating this peaceful event.”

However, not everyone thought the police’s management of the protests went quite so smoothly over the weekend.

Campaigners from Keep Our NHS Public claimed on X that officers pulled over their coach when they were travelling from London to Manchester to protest the conference.

In a clip seemingly showing officers looking in their vehicle, the campaigners claimed there was a “heavy handed police presence to try and intimidate peaceful protesters”.

Officers told HuffPost UK: “GMP is currently running a large-scale operation to protect Manchester city centre and those who live in, work in, or are visiting the city.

“Yesterday, the force received information about the transportation of items which could have been used to cause damage.

“In response, officers boarded a bus and searched the vehicle and a known individual - resulting in the recovery of a quantity of pyrotechnics.”

Superintendent John Paul Ruffle, from GMP Specialist Operations, said: “To those who wish to protest, we will always respect the right to do so peacefully, but the safety of the public remains a top priority. This action was taken today to support and facilitate peaceful protest, rather than prevent.”

Anti-Brexit protester Steve Bray also took to social media to lament the police management of the protests, on both Sunday and Monday.

A GMP spokesperson told HuffPost UK: “Greater Manchester Police is aware of the video circulating online showing an officer requesting that a member of the public move their protest from a traffic island in Deansgate in order to comply with Section 14 of the Public Order Act 1986.

“This followed multiple complaints relating to the male’s conduct.

“The priority for our officers is to ensure that those demonstrating do so peacefully, whilst balancing the rights of the general public. Officers will take proportionate action against those in breach of section 14 to ensure minimal disruption.”

This is the first time during the annual Tory conference that police officers have been able to use the extended powers for stop and search granted to them in Public Order Act 2023.

Before You Go