The Conservative faithful are gathered in Manchester for their party conference, which has this year been overshadowed by scandal, Brexit manoeuvrings and the prospect of an imminent general election.
“Partly that’s because the overall focus is on ‘getting Brexit done’, but partly it is because this is a government without a majority, probably just weeks away from an election, which is not really in a position to implement anything,” says the newspaper.
In Westminster, opposition leaders were discussing how to force Boris Johnson into extending Article 50 earlier than planned while he was focusing on the conference. “And in Manchester, MPs and ministers found themselves ambushed during TV and radio appearances with questions about their leader’s behaviour,” notes the Evening Standard.
Downing Street was forced to deny that the PM groped a journalist’s thigh 20 years ago, and continued to dismiss claims that he had used his former position as London mayor to benefit American businesswoman Jennifer Arcuri.
But what else has happened in and around this year’s conference? Here are a few reports you might have missed.
Davidson, who stepped down in August, said she would not back leaving the EU without a deal in any circumstances. At a fringe event at the conference, her replacement Jackson Carlaw said he would prefer a negotiated way out, but that the UK should leave on 31 October whether or not a deal is agreed.
It is clear Carlaw “believes that his party’s future is best served by lining up behind Mr Johnson”, said Alan Cochrane in The Telegraph. “It obviously remains to be seen if that is the case. But for the moment his words were yet another change in the shifting sands of the Scottish Tory position on Brexit, which can only serve to confuse voters – especially those in the Remain camp.”
Carrie and Cummings row
Tom Newton Dunn, political editor of The Sun, claimed that Johnson has had “bitter rows with his two oldest political friends, Sir Lynton Crosby and Will Walden” for apparently “shutting them out” in favour of his girlfriend Carrie Symonds and the Leave campaign guru Dominic Cummings.
Johnson’s old allies apparently warned him against proroguing Parliament, but he stuck to the Cummings strategy. And a senior minister reportedly told Newton Dunn over the weekend that Johnson distrusts anyone who is critical of Symonds, saying: “He is paranoid about her. His regular refrain is ‘they’re just saying that because they want to get Carrie’. It’s really not helpful as he’s shut everyone else out now.”
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On the eve of the conference, the Muslim Council of Britain urged Johnson to apologise for comparing Muslim women to “letterboxes” and “bank robbers”, and called on him to follow through on his promise of an inquiry into Islamophobia in the Tory ranks, reports PoliticsHome.
Nick Robinson quizzed Chancellor Sajid Javid on the subject this morning on Today on Radio 4, revealing that a fringe meeting was held on Sunday night, not on how to deal with Islamophobia, but on “whether it really existed”.
Javid tried to distance himself from the event saying it was “nothing to do with the party itself” but said he chose to use the term “anti-Muslim hate crime rather than Islamophobia”. He said all people of any faith should be protected from attacks, but in a free society anybody should be able to respectfully disagree with a religion.
As the conference began, a banner calling for the death of Tories, accompanied by two hanging effigies, was put up on a bridge in Salford. An image of the scene was tweeted by Manchester Momentum, the pro-Corbyn wing of the city’s Labour party, with the message: “Good morning @Conservatives. Welcome to Manchester.” However, the group denied any responsibility and later deleted the tweet. The banner was removed and the matter is being investigated by the police.
The Telegraph notes that it comes “amid a growing row over the language being used in the Brexit debate”, adding that “party leaders are being urged to sign up to a new code of conduct to help protect election candidates from abuse and agree a ‘responsible framework for legitimate political debate’”.
Rebels in the rabbles
The party’s own divisive language was criticised by one of its former MPs, David Gauke, who attended the conference despite having the whip removed in July for voting against the Government.
Few of his fellow 21 rebels were present, but Gauke wrote on ConservativeHome: “I have not missed a Conservative Party conference since 2003. This year is no exception. I attend as a Conservative member and MP – but not as a Conservative MP.”
The former justice secretary, who has said he would like to return as a Conservative MP, told Sky’s Sophy Ridge: “I think the Conservative party should aim higher than the standards of Donald Trump.”
Former attorney general Dominic Grieve, who also had the whip removed, also “made a surprise appearance at the Tory Reform Group’s One Nation Conservative reception”, says The Spectator’s Steerpike. “Among this group of pro-EU Tories, Grieve received close to a hero’s welcome – with many attendees thanking him for his efforts to prevent no deal. However, Mr S understands that he has received pursed looks elsewhere.”