This is the first live Conservative Party Conference since Boris Johnson’s election victory in 2019. How celebratory will the planners try to make it, if at all, given the forbidding economic background of shortages, price rises and higher taxes?
On which note: how much protest will be there on the fringe – which is where the conference action is these days – over the central issue for conservatives of the size of the state (and those tax hikes)? Which backbenchers will project protest? Graham Brady? David Davis?
Will Liz Truss slap her future leadership credentials on the table by suggesting that the state is as big and taxes as high as either should get? Not during her conference speech perhaps (she occupies the Sunday graveyard slot once filled by Johnson himself), but in one of her fringe appearances?
The cost of living morphs into questions about Net Zero, which in turn points towards COP26 – due next month. The probability looms of Ministers banging on about green belt-tightening this week while voters are feeling the pinch: not a good look for a big slice of the electorate.
Party opposition to Net Zero has been muted – partly because so backbenchers want their constituencies to gain from the newer technologies. But a third of the ConservativeHome members’ panel thinks human activity doesn’t drive global warming. Who if anyone will speak for them (other than Steve Baker)?
What line will the platform take about Keir Starmer, in the wake of his taking-on of the hard left? The evidence so far is that the position will be brisk: that the Labour leader’s party is split, and that he’s got nothing positive to say.
If Truss is the new leadership aspirant on the block, Sunak is the next leader-in-waiting – at least if our last survey on the subject was anything to go by. How will he go about holding the Treasury line over public spending and tax? What hints if any will we get about the Budget he will present later this month?
Michael Gove is the real Deputy Prime Minister – with a vast portfolio covering housing, planning, localism, the Union, bits of equalities …and levelling up. What flesh will he put on the bones of the latter this week? And will he signal a retreat over housing numbers?
The recent pattern at CCHQ is a friend of the party leader’s serving as the senior co-Chairman and an MP working as the junior one. Can Oliver Dowden restore the traditional standing of the job he now holds, and establish his credentials as a front-rank player?
Like the economy itself, this is a party in transition. It finally has a chance to meet, look back to the last election – and forward to the next one. The Prime Ministers has been up and down in our survey not so much like a shopping trolley as a yo-yo. Manchester will give us a sense of activists’ current take.