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R3 at the Conservative Party Conference 2015

The Conservative Party conference in Manchester was an event of sharp contrasts with that of the Labour Party conference, which took place just a few days before.

The sharpest contrast of all was that the conference marked the first Conservative majority government for 18 years. The conference was therefore always set to be a high profile and buoyant event and so one R3 would need to be part of.

Indeed, with 3,000 more delegates than last year, many fringe events were standing room only or simply impossible to enter, and the queue to get through security reached up to a quarter of a mile long at times; something that was unheard of at previous conferences. 

In particular contrast with Labour conference, there were a large number of commercial exhibitors and businesses hosting fringe events, all wishing to influence the sole party of government. Businesses and organisations exhibiting ranged from charities such as Care After Combat, to large corporations like Carillion, and through to trade bodies like the British Private Equity and Venture Capital Association.

There were also a number of new organisations hosting fringe events this year. Hundreds of events were hold on virtually any public policy issue you could think of, from social issues such as poverty and education right through to business issues, the EU and the future of the Conservative Party. This was very much the conference to attend if you want to influence the government’s public policy agenda over the next five years.

From an R3 perspective, it was very useful to listen to and meet the new relevant ministers, MPs and MEPs. Speeches from the new Business Secretary Sajid Javid and Chancellor George Osborne were particular highlights.

Osborne effectively laid out his claim to follow David Cameron as party leader and Prime Minister. He outlined the government’s plans to continue with their economic strategy of deficit reduction, further devolution to the North and the creation of a Northern Powerhouse, and to push ahead with major infrastructure projects.

David Cameron closed the conference with a speech which secured plaudits from across the political spectrum. Speaking with the confidence of being the first Prime Minister since Palmerston to increase both his party’s share of the vote and the number of seats, Cameron tackled issues of poverty, equality and opportunity.

Conference delegates were left in no doubt that the Prime Minister would seize the opportunity granted by his election victory and uncertainty around the direction of the Labour Party to firmly position his party in the centre ground of British politics. However, given the vehemence and indignation of the protestors outside the conference, it was clear that one speech alone will not change the strongly held opinions of a sizeable chunk of the electorate.

Party conferences can often leave party members with a positive feeling about the future and businesses with a good idea about the direction of travel the party will take on key economic issues. But huge political challenges for the Prime Minister and his party, particularly the EU referendum (possibly held next year), lurk on the horizon. Next year’s Conservative conference may therefore have a very different feel to it.  

Notes to editors:

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