May day – not a car crash but a pile up

Will Mapplebeck witnesses more whacko politics at one crazy Tory knees-up.

What. A. Disaster.

This wasn’t a car crash, but a six-lane pile up on the political Autobahn. A calamitous, pity-inducing, toe-curling, never-to-be-forgotten political moment.

Theresa May managed to deliver not a speech, but a metaphor for her own political career and the state of her party. At one point, while she struggled on, the stage actually started to fall apart behind her. This stuff is lightyears beyond current political satire.

And on top of that, between the coughing and the pranking, the content wasn’t up to much. Housing is the great issue of our age, vital for the party’s long term survival and key to beating a grim demographic forecast. But all the PM could do was announce a bit more money that local authorities could bid for. I mean, was that really the best they could come up with?

It all underlined the fact that there is a crippling crisis of confidence in this party. Time and again I heard delegates calling for new ideas, a narrative, a direction. They decried the fact that the Conservatives were endlessly reacting to Labour not producing bold, innovative visions of where the country needed to be.

It was a good fringe, full of interesting ideas and debate – but that intellectual energy showed no sign of getting anywhere near conference stage where it was a case of the same old, same old. Scots Tory boss Ruth Davidson had lost patience by day two, telling a fringe that the party to ‘man up’ and take the fight to the left. However, most of the delegates and ministers I met just looked a bit scared.

Even the young Conservatives, usually the epitome of self-confidence, hesitated to move out of the secure zone and clustered together in groups for safety, intimated perhaps by a hostile Northern urban environment. There was booze, of course, there is always booze, but in the pubs and bars at midnight on Tuesday, it resembled the last days of the Roman empire, not a party at ease with itself.

No-one, absolutely no-one, that I met seemed to have any belief in the Vicar’s daughter and I left before Speechgate. A new leader won’t improve Conservative fortunes. What’s really needed are some ideas and some fighting spirit, both glaringly absent in Manchester.