Published on October 8th, 2015 |
by Eleanor Newis
Conservative Party Conference 2015: “And So It Begins”
The Conservative Party’s 2015 conference was bound to be rather triumphant: David Cameron has secured his longed-for majority government and the Tories are looking at the straight road of another five year fixed-term parliament. But, he actually looked even more pleased with himself than I expected him to be – and his audience of conference delegates looked rather content too – despite the three days of protesting outside the venue in Manchester. The Prime Minister made quite an entrance, it must be said: he waited almost an entire Coldplay song before walking onstage, and received a bigger standing ovation than I’ve seen on camera outside a dictatorship in a long time. One YouTube commenter, named ‘Recoil Gaming Exploits’, obviously taken with the frequent cheering, exclaimed “it’s like a Nuremberg rally!” I wouldn’t go that far, but ‘Recoil Gaming Exploits’ (and what a name), has a point: there was rather more celebration in the conference’s closing speech than policy.
The biggest example of this is of course Cameron’s comments about Jeremy Corbyn and his views on Bin Laden. Party leaders are not expected to be unbiased – we would worry if they were – but they are expected to stick to arguments of policy; to numbers, plans, and proposals, rather than veer off into ad hominem attacks on the opposing party’s leader. The fact is that ‘ad hominem’ literally means ‘to the man’ or ‘to the person’, and any rebuttal aimed at an individual within the context of political debate is frankly null, void, and appealing not to intelligent or even cognisant human beings, but to people who are taken in by superficial rhetoric. I would hope that the Prime Minister does not think the British people fit the latter description, but his scaremongering about Corbyn belies this hope. Of Corbyn, Cameron declared “you only need to know one thing: he thinks the death of Osama Bin Laden was a tragedy.” Say what, Prime Minister? Does he now? I’ll just go and look that up then. Well, I did look it up. I would advise everyone to go to The Independent website, where there is unedited footage of the 2011 interview that Corbyn gave to an Iranian TV station – these are the words Cameron referred to. If you really do agree with the Prime Minister after watching this video, to be honest you should probably vote Tory in 2020.
When Cameron said “no”, Bin Laden’s death was not a tragedy; rather, 9/11 was a tragedy, he failed to notice that Corbyn actually says in the aforementioned interview, “the World Trade Centre was a tragedy.” He also actually says Bin Laden’s death was “a tragedy upon a tragedy upon a tragedy”, because “there was no attempt whatsoever that I can see to arrest him, to put him on trial, to go through that process. This was an assassination attempt”. Corbyn then goes on to ask “can’t we learn some lessons from this?” He concludes “the solution has got be law, not war.” Now, I am sorry to dwell on this topic for so long, but I just have one last bit to get through. There is actually a very coherent argument for regretting Bin Laden’s lack of trial. Though many will have been pleased, felt triumphant at his death, the fact is that the US mission which killed Bin Laden rendered him a martyr in the eyes of all those that he meant something to; it also makes him a figurehead for inspiring more terrorism, even in death. Al-Qaida propagandist, Saif al-Adl, said 9/11 was supposed to encourage the US to “last out militarily against the ummah”. Bin Laden himself said “by what school of thought is your blood considered blood while our blood is water? Therefore, it is just to respond in kind”, words which I feel have outlived him. Before the ‘war on terror’ saga began, the FBI’s response to terrorists was very different: they arrested Egyptian scholar Omar Abdel Rahman (also known as Sheikh Omar) and convicted him for seditious conspiracy. Opinion differs on the subject, but it’s arguable that the US and UK’s responses were more effective in these earlier years. Corbyn isn’t crazy or “terrorist-sympathising”, as Cameron dubs his “ideology”: he was, back in 2011, actually taking a perfectly justifiable stance in a still continuing debate.
There was a contradiction in the PM’s speech between the “compassionate Conservatism” he maintained he stands for, and his (exaggerated) warning against Corbyn and “his security-threatening, terrorist-sympathising, Britain-hating ideology”. Cameron also outlined policies like the Help To Buy scheme and deals with housing associations to solve the housing crisis, as well as saying he would join the pro-EU campaign and negotiate a better deal for Britain. Michael Gove spoke about prison reform, saying “we should never define individuals by their worst moments”; a policy for local councils being able to cut business rates was proffered. The Tories should shout these things from the rooftops: these policies are a far cry away from the Conservatives that many knew before Cameron’s leadership. The decision to be pro-EU is a particular signal of this, as the Tory party has been a long-held Euro-sceptic stronghold; this move is not only more modern, but in my opinion very in-keeping with Cameron’s “sensible” politics: negotiating with an organisation which began as an economic union, and is becoming more political and bureaucratic, is sensible. Though, in my view, the Tories have always seemed much more comfortable with domestic as opposed to foreign policy, and this also showed at the conference. Unfortunately, Cameron’s line on Syria and the wider Middle East is still lacking: simply calling ISIS a “death cult” and saying “Assad must go” isn’t really detailed enough for my liking. Not to mention his very old-fashioned-Tory-anti-immigration response to the migrant crisis until recently.
Yet, this core vote is not where the Conservatives are aiming their sound bites: the overriding line from the conference is that the party sees itself sticking to the “common ground” (spoken about back in the day by Thatcher). They want to reach out to Labour voters, to people who don’t vote; they are determined to remain central whilst the Labour party veers off to the left. It is a strategy that may work – one the Liberal Democrats are pinning their tattered hopes on – yet I would be wary, Dave, of combining it with negative campaigning against Corbyn. Now the opposition leader has read out the public’s questions in Prime Miinister’s Questions, scaremongering will look even more old hat. But, maybe Cameron doesn’t mind: his words, “I am starting the second half of my time in this job”, could well mean he is now happy to get on with it, without worrying too much about the ballot box. He can leave that to George Osborne. The next five years, right now, look long and hard for the left, but not so easy for the right either. The “compassionate” image is going to get harder to uphold if more and more people feel themselves getting poorer; the negative campaigning could actually fuel anger rather than the fear it is intended to incite. Above all, it’s going to be an interesting five years. In the words of Cameron, “and so it begins.”