Agenda: Conservative Party Conference special

PUBLISHED: 07:00 29 September 2017

Former Shadow Home Secretary Ann Widdecombe enjoys a glass of champagne with William Hague

Former Shadow Home Secretary Ann Widdecombe enjoys a glass of champagne with William Hague

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RICHARD PORRITT with the week's big stories

So to Manchester and the final party conference of the season – Conservative.

Not many people expected Theresa May to be giving the leader’s speech in the wake of the general election disaster but she’s made it and is determined to reassert some authority.

And one government aide says the team is right behind her. “There will be no late nights, no boozy lunches and no late-night liaisons” he said, only half joking.

“Labour dropped the ball at their conference and we are determined not to.” Bit late for that.

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Conference season offers MPs the chance to let their hair down and even have a boogie. At Lib Dem conference former leader Tim Farron was on the decks spinning some of his favourite rap tunes. And last week in Brighton, Labour big hitters enjoyed more than a few beverages at the famous Daily Mirror party.

But who will lead the Tories to the dance floor in Manchester? Step forward minister for digital and culture Matt Hancock.

Hancock will speak at a fringe meeting about how Brexit will impact the music industry and who better for the job? He is very hip and trendy and knows all the current music trends.

After last years Mercury Music Award he told how he loved to listen to grime star Skepta in the ministerial car. He couldn’t name his favourite Skepta song though – until a young special advisor helped him out.

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“People in this country have had enough of experts,” said Michael Gove, infamously. Don’t expect him to be in the audience for the Bruges Group’s ‘Real experts discuss Brexit opportunities for Britain’ fringe event.

To be fair these are the sorts of ‘experts’ Gove might actually like: Brexit economists Patrick Minford and Dr Gerard Lyons will be on the panel.

Mr Minford’s widely cited report that ‘no deal’ would not harm the British economy has now been robustly debunked but Dr Lyons remains adamant that the City of London is “Brexit-proof”.

And, beaming in straight from the 18th century, will be Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Seems Gove was right about experts after all.

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George Freeman likes a party.

So much so that as he jealously watched 100,000 festivalgoers chanting Jeremy Corbyn’s name at Glastonbury earlier this year he decided the right needed its own shindig.

He immediately set about arranging his own version of the famous festival and even dubbed it “Tory Glastonbury”. The initial plan was to mix pop and politics in a bid to inspire Tory grassroots activism.

But two months is a very tight timescale and although it went ahead it was not quite Glastonbury. It was, he said, “a bit blokey and a bit nerdy”, but he added that it did “demonstrate what political festivalism could and should look like”.

Poor old George. You’d think he’d be desperate to get those wellies off and get back to the more familiar surroundings working the fringe events in Manchester but he is already planning next year’s festival.

“We’re planning to have it as a celebration of entrepreneurship, innovation, of the great businesses around the UK,” he said. Sounds like a blast.

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UnHerd is a recently-launched news and comment website edited by Tory commentator Tim Montgomerie.

It describes itself as “for those that instinctively refuse to follow the herd and also want to investigate ‘unheard’ ideas, individuals and communities”. All power to Tim and his team for trying something different – and in Manchester they are taking on their biggest challenge yet.

UnHerd are to host a fringe event titled ‘10 Things Every Conservative Needs to Know About Today’s World’... how will they keep it to just 10 things?

The New European has one suggestion: If you have to lie, don’t write it in massive letters on the side of a big red bus – that will come back and bite you on the backside.

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Manchester is a fine city for a conference. It has history, culture and lots of bars.

If you want to be seen after hours at conference the place to drink is the Midland – easily the best conference hotel bar.

But another favourite is the nearby Radisson Blu hotel bar. It is easier to have quiet conversations here during the day, out of the sight of prying eyes and at night it is taken over by trendy Tories hoping to party. “We’ll be busy next week, yes,” said the harassed-sounding barmaid. “We’ve had Labour and Conservatives here in the last few years. I am not a great follower of the news but I can tell when the Conservatives are coming because we order far more Champagne.” Chin, chin.

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