The Tories may have left their mark on Manchester – in the shape of a hole where the northern leg of HS2 was to run – but Manchester seems to have left its mark on their 2023 conference too. No joy, only division. They’ve lost control. Disorder, day-in, day-out. Resentment rides high but ambitions are low. Hate is tearing them apart, again.
Yet the abiding memory of what should be the Conservatives’ final conference in power for many years will not be Suella Braverman’s vile “hurricane” speech, or the image of her standing on a guide dog’s tail, or Lee Anderson calling the idea that people are poor in Britain “nonsense, absolute nonsense”, or the rehabilitation of Liz Truss, or Jacob Rees-Mogg people claiming that benefit recipients are living on £84-a-week as “a lifestyle choice”, or Priti Patel singing karaoke with Nigel Farage.
It will be of a party that recently dismissed a leader for repeatedly lying now itself embracing post-truth en masse.
“Local councils can decide how often you go to the shops,” lied the transport secretary, Mark Harper. “Labour are… relaxed about taxing meat,” lied the energy security secretary Claire Coutinho. “The government doesn’t run the government,” lied the MP Danny Kruger, implying that a leftist blob of tofu-eating wokerati were responsible for all this mess. The sin of Prue Leith, Kruger’s showstopper was a claim that “there’s a huge movement going on globally, to create essentially a world government that will have power to dictate to national governments what they should do.” This is a conspiracy theory with its roots in dark places, and also a lie.
You can’t blame lowly backbenchers like Kruger or even cabinet members like Harper and Coutinho for lying when the boss is at it too. Look how often Rishi Sunak features in the New European’s Lie Of The Week section – most recently for lying that Labour was “imposing a blanket 20mph speed limit” on Wales, and for lying that the Tories were “stopping heavy-handed measures: Taxes on eating meat. New taxes to discourage flying. Sorting your rubbish into seven different bins. Compulsory car sharing.”
Not long ago, Sunak was lying about Keir Starmer and RAAC, and lying about his own record in cutting funds for school rebuilding while chancellor. His pledges as he entered Downing Street almost a year ago, to restore trust and lead a government built on integrity, are a hollow joke.
Of course, no-one expects any government – especially one with a record as hard to defend as Sunak’s – to pass up the chance to bend statistics to suit its own ends, to try to Photoshop some shafts of light into a photograph of a rainy day. But there is bending the truth and there is post-truth, and the latter is what the Conservatives are embracing as they head out of Manchester and into opposition.
They should be careful. Across the Atlantic, the Republicans have deposed House speaker Kevin McCarthy – a Donald Trump supporter who backed the former president’s lies about voter fraud in the 2020 election – for not being sufficiently hard right. They will again make Trump their candidate despite the criminal and civil court cases piling up against him, despite his toxicity in key swing states. The party of Lincoln, Roosevelt and Eisenhower lost credibility, lost power and is now losing its mind.
This is the path the Conservatives are now walking down, one charted by Manchester’s Joy Division in Heart and Soul: “An abyss that laughs at creation. A circus complete with all fools. Foundations that lasted the ages. Then ripped apart at their roots.”