Labour's galvanising conference in Brighton
The UK opposition party gathered for their annual conference this week and it was a success for leader Jeremy Corbyn. But how united is the party behind the scenes? And what can we expect to hear from the Conservatives next week?
Presented by Sebastian Payne. Produced by Janina Conboye. Edited by Paolo Pascual.
Welcome to FT Politics, the Financial Times' podcast on all things British politics. I'm Sebastian Payne, and in this week's episode, we'll be discussing Labour's annual conference in Brighton, the bombastic speeches from Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, plus looking for the Tories annual gathering in Manchester.
I'm delighted to be joined by Jim Pickard, our chief political correspondent, political editor George Parker, political commentator Miranda Green. Thank you all for joining.
The Westminster village trooped down to England's south coast this week for Labour's annual jamboree, but this party conference was quite unlike the past gatherings. Unlike the last two years, there were no tensions around Jeremy Corbyn's leadership, replaced with an admiration veering into hero worship for the man himself. The radical policies [INAUDIBLE] out, too-- swathes of taxation, nationalisation, promises of rent controls, getting rid of PFI, and capping credit card debt. Having done well in June's snap election, Labour clearly feels it's on the cusp of power. But is this in any way superficial?
So let's begin with the view from inside conference. Jim Pickard, we spent four lovely days together in the Brighton-- the dark Brighton convention centre.
By the seaside.
By the seaside.
What was your overall view of Labour conference compared to past years?
So I'm going to take you to task, Seb, on your claim that there were no tensions because there are still tensions. And I went to a gathering of a group called Labour First, who the kind of survivors of the Labour right or centre or whatever you want to call it. And there were people are like Wes Streeting, who's a Blairite MP, and John Mann, and this guy called Luke Akehurst, who's very much on the right of the Labour Party. And they were criticising the johnny-come-latelies in Momentum. They were saying some of these people are Marxists and Trots, and they want Britain bring to be sent to Venezuela.
And so they were quite cross about the turn of events of the last two years. And also, Tom Watson's speech, the deputy leader was quite incredible where there was that moment where he talked about the triumph of love over hate. And a lot of people there for some reason suspect Mr. Watson of trying to undermine Jeremy Corbyn over the last two years, and you could see a whole phalanx of Unite delegates sat there with their arms folded just death-staring him.
So I take your overall concept, which is that Corbyn is absolutely impregnable and people who hate him have no chance of touching him or damaging him or bringing him down. But those tensions are still there. They're just not centre stage.
And Miranda Green, watching it from afar, what was your impression of the conference this year?
I think they've been quite clever. And in a sense, they learned a lot from their success, although we should remind them they didn't win in the general election.
That was actually a question that came up quite a lot at the conference because Len McCluskey actually said to Prospect, we won the hearts and minds. And some people on the stage did seem to think Labour had won the election.
Yeah. So I think there were two things going on far, as I could make out even though I wasn't there with you two, which is, as so often with political parties, in their own bubble there was a degree of delusion. And the most obvious symptom of that delusion was this idea that they actually won the election or that they won the moral victory.
But I think the other thing that was going on was actually a sort of genuine appetite for power and the sense that they do want to be seen as ready and waiting-- indeed, sort of champing at the bit to get themselves into Number 10. And so I think watching particularly the John McDonnell speech, I think, as much as the Corbyn speech, you get the feeling that they really do want to try and prove that they have captured the mainstream.
Now, I think it's entirely debatable whether the country has moved to the left, as they are very confident of . But I think, for example, if you listened at home to the John McDonnell speech, it was extremely cleverly constructed. This idea, for example, that every couple of generations capitalism has a kind of crisis, and it's the moral, historic mission of the Labour Party to step in-- 1945, he said, the '60s, again in 1997 with the Blair project. And that the time is now is the implication. That the Labour Party comes in and kind of rights the wrongs of capitalism and resets the dial of the country when people feel inequality has got out of hand.
That was pretty clever, I think. And you had to get about 20 minutes into the McDonnell speech before you realised what his real agenda is. And I think that attempt to actually sort of bring the country in, it's kind of a mass gaslighting project in my view, but I think they're doing it quite well.
But for these guys, the rhetoric is always superficially more attractive than their New Labour predecessors because it's so simplistic and because they would do more radical things. You know what I mean?
But it isn't that radical. I mean, I thought even the sort of PFI pledge is very clever stuff because it sounds like some massive rolling back of a New Labour agenda, and then actually the pledge is to review some contracts, and that may well be effective.
But I think in terms of radicalism, putting up taxes by 48 billion pounds a year to provide 48 billion pounds of extra money for public services is pretty radical.
Let's begin with each of the key elements of the conference, Jim. So if begin with Mr. Corbyn's speech on the last day, which is always the big moment which everyone looks to see what the leader's got to say and what he's got to put forward to the country. I thought it was Mr. Corbyn's best speech to date, that he had the whole hall in the palm of his hand. It was very relaxed, full of lots of jokes.
But it also had a quite clear intellectual heart to it, which is the point Miranda was just making that the so-called Overton window, which is the politics that are acceptable to the mainstream has been shifted over the past couple of years by the financial crash, by years of austerity, by the growing anti-capitalist feeling. And it was very reminiscent of the columns Seamus Milne used to write when he was at The Guardian, and he's now Mr. Corbyn's director of strategy.
So his speeches in the past didn't have that heart to it, to me, that explained why I'm here and what I'm doing. I thought that was fascinating. We've actually heard similar things from Theresa May this week about this idea that the old pre-crash norms no longer hold. So in that sense, I thought it was a good speech. But in the other sense, it was very long. It was very rambling in places. And there really wasn't that much new in it apart from this idea of rent controls.
And you're right. He was doing things that New Labour thought that you literally just couldn't do without getting burnt. So directly attacking the leader of the free world Donald Trump over climate change, over Bombardier, over his general approach to things; directly singling out editor of the Daily Mail, Britain's second-biggest newspaper, incredibly influential in the past, and attacking them. I mean, they have the wind in their sails from that general election where the MSM, Mainstream Media, threw everything at them and failed to really dent things.
And you know, they do have a different vision to society to what the Tories want and to what the right of the Labour Party want. Going back to Miranda's earlier point, what we don't know yet is whether his premise is correct that the centre ground has changed. And we had this interesting briefing with Seamus Milne, who's Corbyn's spokesman you mentioned earlier, where he was saying most people want X, most people want Y, most people want Z. And impertinent journalist-- not me-- said, if most people want those things, Mr. Milne, then why didn't they give you a majority in June?
And so also, when you stop to think of it, the number of people who voted for Labour because they cross about Brexit, we still don't know whether they'll still be there in five years time. There's so many strands to this. It really is a very exciting time.
But one of the things I found striking from this conference, Miranda, was the attitude of the delegates and the membership towards the Labour leader. And they never really loved Ed Miliband, apart from the fact he never won an election in the first place, but also because he tried to triangulate politics in the way that Jim said Mr. Corbyn isn't interested. Mr. Miliband took some language of the right and some of the left to try and go down the middle, and it didn't work in the 2015 election.
Whereas Mr. Corbyn is actually saying to people, well, you can be true to your hard-left beliefs. You don't have to compromise on nationalisation, on taxation, on morals. And yet, you can still win or come very close to winning. I suppose the real test is going to be if this next election comes in, say, five years time, will that hold? Because my view is that what happened in June was actually quite a fragile coalition of different groups of people, and keeping all those bits happy over five years will be very difficult. And if this personality cult, if you want to call it that collapses, what's left in its place?
You're absolutely right. It's very difficult to keep all these strands together. They're doing it cleverly at the moment by this rather ambiguous stance on Brexit, which they're maintaining for as long as possible before they actually have to decide which way to jump. And of course, in June, we know that lots of people voted Labour as a sort of best hope of softening Brexit. And I've yet to see Jeremy Corbyn's leadership follow through on that sort of promise.
But, I think that there's also this generational divide, which you've kind of alluded to there. The vast majority of these people who've sort of swung behind the Labour Party are young. They're very idealistic. They, of course, have shorter memories of what Labour has done in power-- not just in the Blair era, but before. If you promise somebody mass nationalisation and they don't actually remember any nationalised industries, you can make it sound pretty good.
So there's is a huge issue there because older voters have their own views, particularly on things like the EU. In those traditional working class areas that have been Labour strongholds for generations, the views on Brexit are completely different, for example, to London, where not just a lot of Labour membership is. But let's face it, a lot of the front bench are London MPs, so you've got a potentially huge tension under the surface, which is going to be very difficult to cover in all this cosy flannel for the long term.
It's right. When you think of the Labour front bench, that the leader, the shadow home secretary, and the shadow foreign secretary all live in neighboring constituencies in Islington, which kind of symbolises where the party is at.
But this Brexit question, Jim, is one that was sort of there in the conference but also not there because Momentum used some very clever skulduggery to stop there being a vote on Brexit on the conference floor-- very reminiscent of the New Labour era. But shadow cabinet ministers that we spoke to at the conference said, you know, we're not going to run the distance on Brexit. We're going to let the Conservatives set where the goalposts are. And the reason that people in Mr. Corbyn's team think that is because, if they said we're going to stay in the single market for the duration, then the Conservatives might outfox them with a different proposal at some point. So they're taking it very tentatively, which is good domestic politics for Labour, but I would think probably bad policy for the country.
Yeah. And they still don't look quite divided. You had Tom Watson yesterday hinting that there could be a second referendum. You had Sadiq Khan, mayor of London, hinting that there could be a second referendum. And his aides were on the phone to me very quickly after this appeared in the Evening Standard saying, not true, not true. But it still creates a sense of they aren't all on the same page there.
And the thing that happened on Sunday and Monday was very interesting. I had the original scoop that the TSSA rail union, who are actually quite close to Jeremy Corbyn, had this motion about continuing freedom of movement, but they were being basically done in by Momentum and Unite the union-- Corbyn's other allies-- who managed to sort of engineer it not being discussed, or at least not having a vote on the floor there.
And the thing that's kind of baffling if you watch this but you were not caught up in it as member or anything is that they talk the talk about democracy all the time, and all these people on The Andrew Marr Show saying we're democratising it. We're letting people have their say. We're changing policy according to what these members want. Now, we know for sure that most of the new members are europhile, and they would probably imagine like continuation of freedom of movement. But the hypocrisy of not let them have that vote, it seems to me a little bit as if team Corbyn like democracy at the grassroots when it's on Syria and when it's on austerity and on issues where everyone agrees with Jeremy, but not when they disagree.
There was one activist, Miranda, who as I think was quoted in one of the papers-- I can't remember if it was your story, Jim-- who actually said the reason we shouldn't have that vote is because it will harm Jeremy. And it comes back to this sort of cult thing, again, around the leader, that you've got to protect the leader.
Well, that's the most negative reading of it. There's also this extraordinary strength that the Labour Party has always had, which is it's kind of corporate ethos. People inside the Labour Party care about the health of the Labour Party and its unity almost more than anything else. And I think you could make a good case at the moment that none of the main political parties are actually thinking enough about the national interest on Brexit. They're all thinking about their own party interests and have done for some years.
And clearly, prioritising the unity of the Labour Party over whether the country's economic interests would be better served by intervening more strongly in the Brexit debate, opposing properly in Parliament, trying to soften the government's line and nudge the negotiations in various constructive ways would be more of a contribution.
But let's not forget that if all these people-- the remain voters who voted for Labour in June hoping that Labour would get us a softer Brexit-- I mean, yes, Keir Starmer came out in late August asking for a transition period, but senior cabinet ministers were already discussing. David Davis and Philip Hammond were working towards that in the early summer. So there was a danger that actually the Tories could have come up with a transition period before Labour, and Labour could have almost been left out there with a harder Brexit position.
I mean, going back to the whole Jeremy sort of adulation, what I'd love to know is how that looked to people outside the conference hall because the people in there loved it and all these chants of Ooh, Jeremy Corbyn. As someone who's never belonged to a political party, I found it a bit cultish, and the whole kind of sanctification of one person is kind of a new thing because it goes beyond let's say Cleggmania or Milifandom, which we're essentially quite silly.
And very short-lived.
And a bit of an in-joke. Whereas this is a genuine thing, whereby a lot of these new members don't seem to accept any criticism of this individual as if any human being could always be right all the time. And Momentum got a very bad press in the early days. I think just to unwind a bit, there was a lot of the criticism that a lot of the members were kind of diehard Trots, and there was a whiff of anti-Semitism, and all the rest of it. I've always been of the view that 80% or 90% of the Momentum members are kind of young, idealistic, 20-something people who they don't know why they were being painted in this way.
And we went to the quiz in Momentum, World Transformed, hosted by Ed Miliband, which was interesting in one sense, which was that that's a fairly mainstream Labour MP appearing at a Momentum gathering, which wouldn't have happened a year ago. And also, when you looked around, you know, very friendly, warm people wanting a better word as the name suggests. But any criticism of the leader, and they get incredibly cross.
And it comes back to this question of he's nearly 70 years old. If he fell under a bus or retired, said he'd had enough, where is the person that can keep the energy going? Where is the alternative leader? And I can't see one.
I think just comparing it to other past examples. The only thing that I think comes probably near it is on the right, and there is still an adulation and lionisation of Margaret Thatcher by many sensitive people who really do adore her. And there are Conservatives who sort of used to kiss her handbag and all that sort of thing.
That's not a real thing, surely, Seb.
No. There was talk about some very young Conservative activists who were totally besotted with the image of Margaret Thatcher and still are in many respects if you go to the fringes of the Conservative conference. But just to go back to the World Transformed, Jim, because this was probably the most interesting part of the conference. And this year, I spent most of my time at those fringes as opposed to the mainstream fringes in the past.
And this was across nine venues. They put it on with 50,000 pounds they raised mostly through crowdfunding and ticket sales.
And two unions.
And two unions. They love to say it was mostly the crowdfunding and the tickets, but also the union support. And it was very much focused as an arts festival. So they, for example, had a clay desk where you could express yourself through clay, and then allow someone else to express themselves in response through clay. And the walls were covered in artwork, anti-Tory artwork, across old cinemas and theatres and what have you-- very different from the formal suited nature of conference.
But the question I had and still do you have about it-- I'd be interested in your thoughts on this-- is, how much of that is just pleasing the young people and giving them a creative outlet? How much of it is about creating serious policies that will lead to the next Labour government?
Well, I think you can focus too much on the slightly wacky stuff like the clay, which obviously was quite funny. But there were loads of quite serious workshops going on, and a lot of it was about organising and about how to do social media and how to create video memes-- the real practicalities. And these guys are really, really good at some of this stuff.
And I did an interview with John McDonnell's new kind of digital advisor, who's the one doing the war games on what might happen in terms of runs on the pound and all that kind of thing. And he's quite an eccentric character. And he created a game a year or two ago called Corbyn Run.
And he was telling me that this game where you kind of mug bankers to raise money to pay for public services, et cetera-- but it's been downloaded 600,000 times. And some of the stuff has been underneath the radar, but it's reaching an awful lot of people.
Yeah. I completely agree. I think that for a long time, we in what's been dubbed the establishment commentariat by Jeremy Corbyn had completely missed the point of what was going on in Momentum. And it's very easy to ridicule things like clay policy workshops, but actually this has mobilised a vast number of young people. And they turned out in force, and they changed the election from what we thought the result was going to be. So it had a real impact on the general election, and it could have a real impact on a future general election as well.
And Jim is quite right to talk about this level of sophisticated creativity. I mean, those viral Facebook video ads that Momentum produced in the election were sensational. They're the most sophisticated political ads I've seen in many years in this country. And if they can harness that sort of input from younger people, it's a sensational advantage for them over a Tory Party where we now know the average age is old and rising.
And where they can't harness a similar sort of creativity.
And I don't want to be the media talking about the media too much, but when you look at how young people are obtaining all of their information and their news and how much of it is Facebook shares and Twitter shares, it's incredibly obvious to me now compared to say a year ago or two years ago that, if you were trying to be even-handed and you're chucking journalistic mud at everyone, when you criticise the Tories, it goes viral an awful lot. When you criticise Jeremy Corbyn, it's just dying out there in cyberspace. And it's really, really interesting what's getting people excited or not excited out there.
I think, to clarify, I do think the World Transform was a very impressive festival here, and I'm not trying to totally rain on their parade because I think what they did achieve to do this in such unconventional way. I went to an hour-and-a-half discussion on neoliberalism with journalist Paul Mason and the Labour MP Clive Lewis. I'm still not entirely sure--
Do we think neoliberalism exists?
Well, I'm still not entirely sure what neoliberalism is.
What is it, Seb?
I'm pretty sure I might be it whatever it is, but the definition of these things, obviously, is up for debate.
Does the end of neoliberalism mean that the Business Department is going to be producing iPhones or something. I still haven't worked this one out.
Somebody suggested at this festival we should nationalise Uber, and TFL should run it as a cooperative even though Uber's an American company and the technology is American. So I'm not quite sure how that would work.
But they are clearly grappling with these big issues, and I think even the most ardent free marketeer would say that the concepts that have defined Britain's economy for the past 30 years are being challenged, as they are doing that as well as the kind of funky stuff.
But just finally, Jim, there was also this slightly darker side that kind of pops up now and again. So anti-Semitism popped up again at this year's Labour conference. And I went to this, the Venezuelan-Cuban Solidarity, which is really sort of the hard core of the Labour left there. And Chris Williamson, who is a Corbynite MP, spent the vast majority of the session shouting abuse at Michael Crick and Nick Cohen, who were in the room from Channel 4 News and The Observer.
And it was very Trumpian in his attack, the way that it was not actually allowing them to criticise. Nick Cohen said at one point, can I ask you a question? And Karen Lee, who is an MP who works for John McDonnell, just turned around and said, absolutely not. And then they all stormed out the room as soon as it was over.
And wasn't there an event called Israel Free Speech where people weren't allowed to record it or take photographs?
Yes, that's right.
And I think it was the opposite of free speech.
So the question is, someone who's covered Labour for many years, this stuff has always been on the hard left as there is a similar intolerance on the hard right. Has it grown, or is it just that people are more aware of it now?
So my personal view on this one-- and I don't want to sound complacent-- but I suspect some of that was there already, but it's more interesting to us because these people are potentially close to Corbyn and McDonnell. Or at the very least, they're supporters of the hard left.
But I think, on the other hand, when you increase a party's membership from around 200,000 to nearly 600,000, as well as those nice 25-year-old lovely people who want a better world, there are quite a significant number of people who left in disgust under New Labour or were thrown out or were part of Militant in the '80s.
Yeah, marginalised in the '80s and thrown out of the party.
They tend to be the old ones I would say, as a gross generalisation, who do have these issues, which are uncomfortable.
This split has been described, Miranda, the Leninists and the Lennonists. So those are the ones who obviously subscribe to the works of Lenin and those who imagine the world of John Lennon, and that's the split. And I think last year's conference, it felt like there was quite a battle between those two groups on the hard left. But this year, to me, the John Lennonists seemed to be the ones who won that.
Yeah. But I think this dark side that you describe is very real actually. And I think, particularly on the anti-Semitism, actually, the rise of internet news and rivals to traditional news sources-- I mean, if you talk to anyone in Jewish groups, this issue of Holocaust denial, the way that people get their information now through the internet has made that much much more prevalent. And I don't think that's been an issue in the Labour Party for many, many, many years.
Similarly, the kind of level of misogyny. We all know how easy social media has made is to threaten women in public life. We saw that in a very unpleasant way this week at Labour when the BBC'S political editor, Laura Kuenssberg, had to have security for the week. And then it became a story alleging that this wasn't actually right, that she didn't really need the security people, suggesting oh, well, let's film her 24 hours a day to prove she doesn't need the security.
Exactly. She's hasn't been beaten up or killed or whatever, and therefore why does she need this bodyguard. Just absolute ignorance.
It is dark. Yeah. It is dark.
And there was a further twist in that where The Canary, which is a propaganda sheet for the hard left-- I don't hesitate to call them that-- they were running a story suggesting that Laura Kuenssberg was appearing at Tory conference next week on some panel. And it turned out that she'd just been invited to the panel, and she hadn't accepted the invitation. And some of these supporters were still saying oh, still, she's been invited to a discussion panel at Tory conference. She must be a Tory. And even when the facts are right in front of their faces, refusing to believe that The Canary could have got something wrong. And I find that a little disturbing.
And finally, last point on Labour conference from both of you, does Labour and Jeremy Corbyn come out this week stronger and in a better position than they were before? Because that's really the test of what a party conference is about.
Well, I don't know. I mean, they were acting like it was a victory parade, as you said. But it's the same kind of victory you get when Luton Town plays Chelsea in the FA Cup and they managed to lose only by 4-3. They still need to take 60 seats for the next general election to get into power. And the real danger here, with all is triumphalism and singing and cheering, is that expectations get ahead of themselves. And the next election could be soon, but it could be a five-year wait. And they could get to 2022 and still lose. And the sort of sense of disappointment if that happens-- may or may not happen, I literally am predicting nothing-- would be enormous.
Yep. I'm totally with Jim on this. It actually depends on how long Theresa May can survive as a caretaker prime minister and leader of the Conservative Party because if there's a general election any time soon, Labour are in good shape. They've got a great machine. They've got enthusiastic backing. And they're kind of on a roll. But if the election is down the line under a different Tory leader, then I think Labour's still got serious problems.
So on to next weekend. And on Sunday, it's the Tories turn in Manchester. Theresa May's party will gather for a rather different type of conference. The prime minister needs to say sorry somehow to her party's faithful for botching up June's general election, but she's also got to keep the party's divisions over Brexit under wraps. All the time, the future leadership contenders will be setting out their stores. It's a very difficult tightrope for Mrs. may, and one she might well wobble on.
So George Parker, looking forward to the Tory conference, last year's was Theresa May's first big conference, and she actually got through that one pretty well, although things came off the rails obviously not too long after that. What are her challenges this year?
Well, I think the primary challenge is, of course, Brexit. It's the thing that will hang over the whole conference, the issue that divides the party more than anything else, and the proxy by which the various potential candidates for the leadership will be--
Clarify, there's no opening just yet.
There is no vacancy, but what we'll see is the usual beauty parade of people who rather like their chances. And of course, a lot of the action at the conference will be taking place on the fringe where people like Jacob Rees-Mogg, the current darling of the party grassroots, will be attending a number of fringe meetings, where red lines of various sorts will be laid down on Brexit.
So the challenge will be to manage the Brexit arguments at the conference, and I'm told that the big speech the prime minister will make on Wednesday will be very much domestic policy focused. And she'll keep a section on Brexit. Although quite robust-- for the activists, of course-- it won't be the central theme of the speech.
The theme of the conference is basically returning to the agenda she set out on the steps of Downing Street in July 2016, about making it a country that works for everyone.
It's interesting. Lots of Tory MPs and Labour MPs have said to me, if Theresa May had stuck to her original agenda and kept to it, I'd be much happier. if you're a Tory. You're more worried if you're Labour in a way. Because this kind of radicalism of tackling vested interest that her then-chief of staff Nick Timothy was advocating was seen as very different and very powerful to David Cameron. Yet, it was instantly forgotten in Brexit. And I suppose there's a danger that will happen again because, no doubt, Boris Johnson will speak-- David Davis and Liam Fox.
And that's before we get to the fringes, and I think the fringe meetings are often where the most interesting things happen at conference. There'll be lots of influential MPs, people like Ian Duncan Smith and Suella Fernandes, who will speaking at those events. And they could easily destabilise the prime minister by saying something about transition or the end state or what have you.
Yeah. I think that's what everybody is going to be talking about. And just as at Labour conference this week, it's the issue that none of the leadership really want to talk about because it's the issue that divides the party. Theresa May's got a real problem, which is, as you say, to try and focus attention on her domestic agenda given the fact we just had an election fought on probably the worst manifesto that any of us can remember, which is now being pulped.
And so Theresa May's policy unit has been worrying manically, trying to come up with a new set of policies that will deliver some of this stuff. So you would expect to hear something about the government's policy to increase the housing supply, maybe something on mental health, maybe something on student debt to show the government is in tune with the concerns of people and not just talking about their obsession, which is Brexit.
But the problem that the government now and Theresa May has in pursuing the agenda back in 2016 is she has no majority. That's a big problem. And the other thing is if you bring forward legislation on any progressive issue-- let's take, for example, something to curb executive pay-- whatever you do will then be amended by the Labour Party to push you further to the left. And you start off with good intentions to make it sound like you're a responsible Conservative Party responding to popular concerns about capitalism. In the end, you get presented as the bad guys by the Labour Party who will always go one step further, whether it's on housing, on student fees, anything you can mention on the progressive agenda.
Yes. And then there's also this element of the saying sorry. There's been lots of different reports in the papers that she will give mea culpa, she won't. And I guess, in some way, she will have to because there's this report come out on the Sunday, which is looking into why the party lost the election. There will be a lot of finger pointing. I'm sure some on Theresa May's team, some at Lynton Crosby who was the strategist running the campaign, some at Conservative HQ. And that sort of beginning the conference on a base of recrimination, not optimism.
Yeah. There's a real blame game going on. And, as you said, the expectation was that Theresa May would give him a mea culpa and apologise for, after all, it was her decision to have this snap election. And in fact, this week, she's admitted the party wasn't ready to fight that election.
I wonder whose fault that was.
Well, indeed. Well, indeed. But we asked her about it on the plane out on the recent trip to New York, whether she was going to apologise to the conference, and she said she'd already apologised. She gave the impression that that was all in the past. And I'm sure she would desperately like to move onto the front foot. But nevertheless, I think the party does want an apology from her and a recognition of what went wrong. It wasn't just the manifesto. It wasn't just the planning process. It was a failure on multiple levels, and I think there will be a real inquest at the conference.
And the people to watch, I suppose, as well as the three Brexiteers I mentioned before who every word and syllable they utter will no doubt go through the Number 10 Press Office to make sure there's no deviation from what was said in Florence-- but the tone of what they say will be interesting because there was a pretty punchy tone last year in Theresa May's conference speech. The citizen of nowhere stuff and the talk about immigration, in particular, was seen as quite hardline rhetoric. So they may pivot on that.
But also, what Philip Hammond says, the chancellor is in a much more powerful position than he was last year, as is Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives. So what they both have to say will be pretty important. Is there anyone else you think we should watch out for?
Well, I think, actually, you mentioned some of the people who will be talking on the fringes on Brexit. But you're right. Every speech will be parsed for the nuance and whether it's for hard Brexit or soft Brexit, how long the transition, should the ECJ be involved in the transition. But you've mentioned the main people.
Theresa May's speech last year was plainly written in a different era when--
She was in the ascendancy.
She was in the ascendancy. The hard Brexiteers were in control. Nick Timothy, he co-chief of staff heavily instrumental in writing that speech. And basically, it set alarm bells ringing right across Europe. They thought this was a prime minister who didn't get it. She wants to have her cake and eat it. We're now in a totally different era. The Florence speech was very conciliatory indeed. It set a good tone for the Brexit negotiations which have been going on this week. And that was acknowledged by Michel Barnier, the chief negotiator.
And her trick will be, in her speech on Wednesday, she'll need to say something about Brexit. She will need to remind the activists that she remains wedded to the principles of Brexit that she sets out in a speech in January at Lancaster House-- that we will have control of our borders, money, and laws, and all the rest of it. So she'll remind the party of what her end vision is and try and gloss over the fact that, on the way there, we're going to have two years of transition where we're more or less members of the European Union.
The danger, again, for Theresa May is that, in addressing the people in the hall, she risks putting the cat among the pigeons with an audience watching on television in Berlin, Paris, and elsewhere. Because they've banked the Florence speech. The last thing they want is having mixed signals come out of Manchester. That actually, she says one thing when she's in a Tuscan church and another thing when she is in front of Tory activists in Manchester.
Well, thankfully, you and I will be there enjoying the four days of fun. So we'll be back next week to dissect and see if any of this comes true. That's it for this week's episode of FT Politics. Thank you to Jim, George, and Miranda for joining us. We'll be back to talk about the Tory conference next weekend. Until then, thanks for listening.