Transphobia, Truss, and Tory lies: The 2023 Conservative Party Conference
BY TOM LOWE
‘Stand up and fight!’ Penny Mordaunt bizarrely yells for the twelfth time as she pumps her fist in the air and concludes her speech about the importance of freedom (from what, we still don’t really know). The audience is silently confused, contemplating what they just witnessed, before breaking out into a modicum of applause where you can almost hear people whispering to each other ‘What on earth just happened?’.
Those five words perfectly sum up the 2023 Conservative Party Conference, which was hosted in Manchester from the 1st to the 4th of October. This was a chance for Rishi Sunak to flex his political muscles and try and claw his party back up the polls, which are still showing a significant gap of 13-16% between the Tories and Labour. This was a chance for the Conservative Party to display a united front after the turmoil that unfolded in Autumn 2022 and prove that even thirteen years after gaining power, the party is still fit to govern. This was a chance to achieve all of that, and in typical Tory fashion, these opportunities were squandered.
One of the main takeaways from the conference was the formal announcement that HS2 (the high-speed rail project intended to connect London to the North) would be scrapped once it reached Birmingham, meaning that proposed lines to Liverpool and Manchester would no longer be going ahead. Instead, the government announced a new public transport initiative called Network North, investing £36 billion into more local routes in a bid to ‘improve everyday local journeys’ for the nation.
There is much scepticism about the viability of this new plan, especially the ambiguity surrounding what benefits Network North would bring. Critics within the construction and transport industry argue that improving local routes needs to be done alongside large-scale national projects (such as HS2) to cut down on journey times. To quote Mark Reynolds, the CEO of Mace Group (a global construction company), ‘if [your body] doesn’t have your main artery, you can’t really have any blood vessels’.
Sadly, this is another example of a broken promise the Conservatives have made to the North, and it seems as though the ‘Levelling Up’ agenda that the party has been espousing since the pandemic is thoroughly dead in the water. Twitter/X user @joncstone summed up this abandonment of the North by taking a photo of beer mats that had been left around the conference by protestors, with an iconic Game of Thrones quote being emblazoned on them, simply reading – ‘The North Remembers’.
In addition to their betrayal of the North, the Conservatives almost saw their conference usurped by the astounding speech of the 45-day Prime Minister. Liz Truss appeared (seemingly out of thin air) in front of a packed conference room and gave what can only be described as a Thatcher-esque speech with the self-awareness of Donald Trump. Besides the small matter of crashing the UK economy in a matter of days and leaving office as the least popular prime minister since polls began, Truss remains committed to her economic plan, gathering a surprising amount of support for her so-called ‘Growth Group’, of which 60 Tory MPs are already members.
The return of Truss seems to have rung the death toll of unity with the Conservative Party. Coupling Truss’ conference cameo with the surprising appearance of Nigel Farage, it seems as though Rishi Sunak faces more opposition from within his own party than he does from Keir Starmer and Labour. There is a wing of the Tory Party trying to swing it to the right, and Sunak now has to grapple with this as the runup to the next general election begins.
So, how did Sunak address these major issues in his landmark speech? Did he embody the cruel, iron will of Margaret Thatcher and take a hard line against any would-be rebels? Did he reflect upon and accept the blame for the past thirteen years of Tory failings that have brought the country to its knees? Did he propose an ounce of vision for the future of the UK at all? The short answer is no.
The longer answer is as follows. Sunak began by defending his cuts to HS2 and his ridiculously dystopian dilution of the net-zero target as methods of assisting the poor, despite presiding over massive rises in poverty and inequality during his tenure. The divisions within his own party were barely addressed, with the prime minister instead using Thatcher’s iron will against the Conservatives’ favourite political football, the transgender community.
Sunak went on a transphobic rant, scapegoating one of the most marginalised and oppressed communities in the country. He declared that ‘a man is a man, and a woman is a woman, that’s just common sense’ to rapturous applause. In an instant, Sunak disregarded the needs, and even the existence of an entire community to score cheap political points amidst such individuals as Suella Braverman (who herself was heavily criticised for a transphobic and homophobic speech she made the day before).
This is who our prime minister is. An unelected, unaccountable, out of touch, and bigoted billionaire who, instead of addressing the true problems with the UK, problems that have been largely caused and exacerbated by his own party, attacks transgender people. The Conservative Party’s tactic of stoking and manufacturing a culture war to distract from their incompetent governance has been widely documented over the past few years and has extremely dangerous and sinister consequences that could incite violence and hatred against members of the trans community.
The modern-day Conservative Party is divided, immoral, bigoted, and looking extremely likely to be out of office within the year if an election is called (as is expected) next spring. Indeed, the appearance of Truss suggests that many MPs are already preparing for a post-Sunak future. Thirteen years of governance has culminated in a messy, divisive and dangerous few days of conference.
The Tories have looked around at the state of the nation, and have been quick to blame anyone but themselves, including Labour, the media, environmentalists, and LGBTQ+ people for these problems as if they haven’t been in power for over a decade. The economy is weakened and stagnant, our international status is fading fast, promises are being broken left right and centre, raw sewage is filling our seas, minorities are being consistently attacked, migrants are being demonised, and the Conservatives are not doing anything to alleviate these issues.
The 2023 Conservative Party Conference may have been a jumbled quagmire of bigotry and division, but one thing has been made crystal clear from those four days in Manchester. Rishi Sunak is not fit to govern. Liz Truss is definitely not fit to govern. The Conservative Party, with all of its sleaze, hatred, turmoil and immorality, is most certainly, not fit to govern. It is time to show them the door and ensure that they do not have the keys to Number 10 for a very long time.
Image: Sky News/ Liz Truss