LISTEN, it’s not as if Tory party conferences, and the media circus that surrounds them, are ever particularly edifying spectacles. I know we are all meant to think John Major is pretty saintly these days (and compared to the current inhabitant at Number 10 that’s maybe not too wide of the mark), but I have miserable memories of the speeches made by Major and his cabinet cronies back in the 1990s and they struck many of the same notes of sneering contempt we’ve heard this week.
It’s hard to forget then social secretary Peter Lilley’s infamous, preening “I’ve got a little list” speech from 1992, or Major’s own “back to basics” speech a year later.
But let’s be honest. This past week in Manchester has been a miserable litany of bad jokes, half-baked policy ideas and sky-high self-regard. And that’s just Boris.
I can’t say I made much of an effort to listen to the Prime Minister’s speech but a quick glance over its contents reveals the usual bloviating bluster and misdirection (the word “lying” would not itself be totally inaccurate).
Johnson, of course, has surrounded himself with “talents” who almost make him shine in the faulty lights of their own inadequacies. As someone who is not above saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, I could almost have some sympathy for Dominic Raab. If only he didn’t come across as a bear of very little brain. We can add this week’s utter incomprehension of the meaning of misogyny to a catalogue of misunderstandings he’s revealed down the years (insert your own line about the English Channel at this point).
Meanwhile, new culture secretary Nadine Dorries had a go at the BBC for nepotism, conveniently forgetting that she has in the past employed her own daughters at the taxpayers’ expense.
(To be fair to Dorries, for once, her general point – that it was becoming more difficult for kids from a working-class background to make an impression in the arts – has some validity).
And then Peter Bottomley, the country’s longest-serving MP, told us he wasn’t sure how some members of parliament managed on just £82,000 a year (before expenses), a statement designed to rub those of us (me certainly. And you?) who earn significantly less up the wrong way. Maybe, all of those struggling Tory MPs could retrain in IT, as the government told ballet dancers to do last year.
That Bottomley should come out with this nonsense in the week that the Tory government went ahead with the £20 Universal Credit cut at a time of rising energy bills and food costs, impacting on people in and out of work, is not just tin-eared but frankly contemptuous.
(By the by, the Stormont Executive are debating whether or not to mitigate this cut. The SNP government can point to their mitigations of the bedroom tax and the Scottish Child Payment, but will there be pressure to look at reversing this latest cut in Scotland?)
Oh, and I forgot to mention health secretary Sajid Javid’s comments that health and social care should begin at home; a bombshell, I’m sure, to the many sons and daughters and mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters who are waking up today to another 24 hours of looking after family members.
There are days when I think Angela Rayner was maybe a bit too mealy-mouthed.
The good news is that conference is now over for another year. The bad news. We’re stuck with this shower for another couple of years at least.