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“It’s the Economy, Stupid!” – What to Expect from the Conservative Party Conference

Damage limitation is the name of the game for Liz Truss and her Conservative front-bench at this year’s party conference in Birmingham. There’s no other way to say it, it’s been an awful week for the Conservative Party the likes of which I can’t remember seeing for as long as I’ve been following politics.

The economic chaos caused by the not-so-mini-budget last Friday, coupled with a smooth, optimistic and policy-driven Labour Party Conference has left the Conservatives 33% behind in one poll and an average of 19% behind Labour across the board. When you remember that Tony Blair won his 1997 landslide victory with a 13% lead, 19% sounds catastrophic for the Conservative Party.

There are rumours that many back bench MPs are sitting this year’s conference out, with Rishi Sunak already confirming he’s not going to attend, while Labour’s Deputy Leader Angela Raynor is fuelling the flames by saying Boris Johnson will be plotting an early comeback at conference. We’ll be on Boris Watch to see if he attends.

But from those who are attending, the Cabinet members and Liz Truss faithful, don’t expect any apologies for the chaos in the markets over the last 7 days. Liz Truss and her Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng are sticking with their fiscal policy of trickle-down economics and have remained firm when speaking to media, industry bodies and fellow MPs this week.

So what should we expect in terms of policy and promises? In essence, not a lot. While the Labour Party Conference was full of new policies and manifesto promises, Liz Truss has just spent the summer outlining her policies and visions for the next few years before the next general election, and she is not backing down from her plan, at least not yet.

The Chancellor’s speech will likely be a defence of the fiscal policy, saying the markets will calm in the long-term and that it’s too early to see the full benefits of their plans, while Liz Truss’ leaders speech will likely major on energy security, blaming Russia’s war in Ukraine on the energy crisis and promising more home-grown energy to combat skyrocketing gas prices.

Despite the expected lack of big policy, the conference could be make or break for the still new Truss-Kwarteng partnership. If the conference succeeds in calming the markets and reassuring the public that it is just a short-term blip then Truss will see it as a success and will push forward with her election promises made over the summer. But if the conference is full of blunder, discontent from party members and calls for change then Liz Truss could be forced to U-turn on her fiscal plans, which would almost certainly result in Kwarteng’s resignation from the Treasury and another not-so-mini-budget by the new Chancellor to reverse some of last week’s announcements.

We’ll be watching closely over the next few days to see what is announced, as there’s always a chance of a surprise rabbit out of the Tory hat, but this conference could be remembered for it’s blunders rather than its policies. With a 33% deficit to Labour in the polls, it’s difficult to see how things could get worse for the Conservatives, and smooth organisation could be just as crucial as reassuring policies this week.

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