The Conservative party conference has got underway, accompanied by protests and several no-shows.
Around 5,000 protestors took part in a march organised by the TUC on Sunday to coincide with the opening of the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham. Protestors later heard a succession of union leaders speaking in Victoria Square, condemning the coalition government’s record and vowing to campaign against austerity cuts. Bob Crowe of the railway union RMT called for higher taxes on top earners and decent living standards for workers and pensioners. Other speakers talked of the need to defend the NHS and led demands for a 24 hours general strike against the cuts.
Outside the conference, which is taking place at the ICC, there were around 150 animal rights protestors demonstrating against the proposed badger cull. Many of these gave a rough ride to arriving delegates who included development minister Baroness Warsi, as they entered the venue, sealed off from Broad Street by rows of police and security staff as well as a ten foot metal fence. Other protestors included campaigners against the HS2 rail link, and the Justice for the 21 group who are seeking a fresh inquiry into the 1974 Birmingham pub bombs. Visitors to the ICC also saw an advertising hoarding displaying a picture of Prime Minister David Cameron alongside the slogan ‘Say Hello to Dave – Say Goodbye to your Police Force’ at the top of Broad Street.
Conference delegates heard keynote speeches from Foreign Secretary William Hague and Armed Forces Minister Phillip Hammond. But while around 13,500 visitors are attending the conference, which continues until Wednesday, only around 240 of the party’s 304 MPs are expected to be in attendance.
Most prominent amongst the absentees is Sutton Coldfield member Andrew Mitchell, missing after the recent row which followed him allegedly abusing a Downing Street policeman. Mr Mitchell has chosen not to attend the conference for fear of being a distraction to the main business of the four-day event. However, the non-appearance of the city’s only Conservative MP is bound to arouse fears amongst party loyalists that the Tories are still failing to connect with voters after two years of government.