It might come as a surprise that I’ve been a regular attendee at the Tory Party Conference when it’s been held in Birmingham. Not as a Tory party member I hasten to add, but an onlooker at one of the many fringe events. The debates I saw were usually very interesting and thought provoking and I’ll be first to admit that some involved a glass of wine and a great deal of networking.
Best of all, perhaps, I’d usually sell quite a few LibDem raffle tickets and put my point of view across. Unfortunately, the LibDem raffle tickets moved online, so it’s no longer as easy to sell them. But I was always quite touched by how many people were happy to buy a few. Sometimes it was easier to sell them at the Tory Party Conference than to fellow LibDem members!
The Tories will be here between 2-5 October and there have been warnings of severe disruption due to security measures. The last time the Tories rolled into Birmingham was in September 2018, before Covid. Even that one had a different feel to the conferences I’d attended previously. Theresa May was prime minister, the coalition years had ended, but there was still a glimmer of hope that Brexit could be overturned, a view shared by quite a few Tories we met.
Instead of just attending fringe meetings, this time, was also part of the EUinBrum team which organised the “Bin Brexit” protest march and rally. Located in Victoria Square, most conference attendees coming from New Street Station had no alternative but to walk through the protest and my husband often remarks how sheepish they looked. Some “Tories against Brexit” even joined in with us.
My encounter with Tim Martin
Most days, I also protested outside the event with Steve Bray and his braver than brave band of “SODEM – (Stand of Defiance European Movement) Action” heroes. We saw many people pass us. Amongst others, Michael Gove was polite and friendly and even stopped to chat a couple of times. Another attendee chatted most mornings and yes, he even bought some raffle tickets each time he came to talk to me, unlike Gove.
However, my very favourite part of the 2018 conference was ending up in the Daily Mirror for putting a “Bollocks to Brexit” sticker on Tim Martin. Yes, that is indeed my very own hand and a memory that will stay with me forever!
For anyone not acquainted with Tim Martin, he’s the owner of Wetherspoons and has been a huge proponent of Brexit. How Brexit has helped his business is still a mystery and only this week, his pub chain has just announced that a raft of pubs are due to close. Hardly a sign of a thriving business some six years after we left the EU.
A nightmare scenario
All of this friendly camaraderie came to rather an abrupt end when I attended a fringe event where Jacob Rees-Mogg along with John Redwood were speaking.
In 2018, Rees-Mogg was well and truly on the margins and free to say what he liked, as was John Redwood. Fringe meetings tend to attract some very extreme viewpoints and back then you could never imagine someone like Rees-Mogg actually being in government.
I came out of the event shaken to the point I couldn’t speak. It was like being in a dystopian universe and Rees-Mogg was akin to one of the very worst Doctor Who monsters imaginable. And somehow, in this craziest of crazy worlds, he is now business secretary, surely the only one in the world who refuses to have a computer on his desk. At the event, he espoused policies such as lifting the cap on bankers’ bonuses without a care about what that would do to public services.
After the Rees-Mogg event, I went to meet some people I called friends back then at an LGBT-Tory event, but I couldn’t speak. I looked round and simply went home feeling horribly deflated and very frightened for the future of my country. It took me a long time to get to sleep and I’ve had nightmares ever since. But none of the nightmares compare to the reality we now find ourselves in. Just who could have foreseen the IMF and Bank of England’s response to the Chancellor’s “mini-budget”?
And what about the bankers whose bonus cap was lifted? To say thank you, they showed how little respect they have for the country and shorted the pound, bringing chaos to the financial markets. Quite fitting I suppose when you take into account Rees-Mogg’s own company fled to Ireland after Brexit. However much disdain they show for our country, they still wave the Union Flag at every opportunity as if they care. They don’t. They just care about themselves.
The real reason for not going
With the new and still largely untested Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts legislation now in place making it more difficult to protest, I simply don’t think I could go to fringe events at the conference without the possibility of getting arrested, or in serious trouble, so I’m staying well away.
Even though it’s only a short bus ride away to the conference and there are a few events which look interesting, the thought of mingling with a room full of Tories fills me with dread and horror. It seems I’m not the only one. I doubt we’ll see former Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the event and even the former Chancellor, Rishi Sunak is staying away. Perhaps he doesn’t trust himself not to say something out of turn. Come the next Tory Party Conference, I doubt Truss will be there. Or is that just wishful thinking?
I simply don’t want to end up the same as my friend Sylvia who was arrested just for travelling towards Johnson’s wedding. Stories like these show I had every right to be frightened for the future of my country. Such a chasm has opened up between good and the downright evil now in power, I really don’t want to go anywhere near our latest set of visitors to Birmingham.