Sketch: What happened at the Tory conference?

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 7 October 2016 in Comment

The Fox, the Crabb and the strange case of Andrea Leadsom

At times, watching Dr Liam Fox talking at the Tory conference, it is hard to believe the man is a real doctor, even if he is definitely not a real fox.

A real fox would never have made such a long speech. Foxes are typically more interested in foraging than international trade, and a fox – like anyone else with any sense – would probably have just fled the stage.

Not Liam Fox, though. Standing, bright eyed and bushy tailed, he explained: “There was a time when the terms ‘Britain’ and ‘trade’ would have been almost synonymous.” Unfortunately, Fox didn’t mention which point in history people used the words ‘Britain’ and ‘trade’ interchangeably. But he looked confident saying it, telling the audience: “For over two centuries we were the trading nation.”


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Did that mean we were the trading nation, or the Britaining nation? It didn’t seem to matter. Moving on, the Secretary of State for Trade, or Britain, ran through the glories of our mercantilist past, explaining: “Intuitively, we are a trading people”. Indeed. A trading people. A Britaining people.

Still, at least he’s managed to keep a place in the Cabinet. The conference must have been an awkward one for Michael Gove after all.

Meanwhile, Stephen Crabb’s career seems to have moved sideways. Though that’s not because Stephen Crabb is a crab, but because of allegations he was sending out sexually explicit messages, while married, after years of publicly moralising about the importance of the nuclear family. A real crab would never do that, in large part because it would be living in the ocean.

So it is just Fox and Andrea Leadsom left from the leadership contest. And it would be tempting to imagine there is a rare and wonderful beast known as a Leadsom. Some wide-eyed, elusive creature which popped up anywhere it had no right to be – on top of Mount Everest, at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, or in an elected government.

And as the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Andrea Leadsom has continued to exceed, or at least limbo under, popular expectation. Her speech was gold.

Boasting it was a Tory government which created the first environment department – while skirting round the fact it was a Tory government which recently axed the first climate change department – Leadsom claimed: “Our stunning landscapes are famous right across the globe. They've inspired paintings, poems and pop songs. They attract millions of visitors, underpinning a rural tourism industry that is worth more than £30 billion a year.

“I hear that tourists are even buying bottled English countryside air for up to £80 a go. But that doesn't tell the whole story.”

That’s actually true, that doesn’t tell the whole story. In fact, it doesn’t tell any of the story, because it’s nonsense.

Next she moved on to plans to improve rural broadband, saying: “I know so well how frustrating it is if you can’t get on to your Pokemon Go account.” Now clearly Leadsom has no idea what Pokemon Go is. She probably still doesn’t, even after saying it. This is a woman who thinks people are selling jars of air to the Chinese. But still, it was in her speech, so she said it with the same conviction she said everything else.

And at least Leadsom’s references were more current than those of Scotland’s lone Scottish MP. Things started much as you would expect, with David Mundell scuttling on stage, like Gollum, to describe the Union as “precious”.

Which is true, the Union is precious. Obviously not as precious as something really precious, like lost pirate treasure, or a magic ring, but precious in the way a complex political, legal and social organisation operating over a given territory is precious. Even if it’s not precious, it is certainly expensive, though that may not be exactly the same thing.

Not that anyone was arguing. This was Mundell in fighting mode – he’s even grown a fighting beard.

Blasting the SNP – at least with his words, if not with some kind of blaster – he accused Nicola Sturgeon’s party of “doom-mongering about Brexit and using it as an excuse to threaten a second independence referendum.”

“That is not what the people of Scotland want. It is a Sword of Damocles – the single biggest threat to Scotland’s economy.”

This was one of the best bits of the speech, especially when you consider how few modern-day political speeches include references to the Sword of Damocles.

And it is certainly a worry. After all, who wants a sword over their head? Even a mythical one? Damocles hated it, and he wasn’t even real.

But at least Mundell was bringing imagery into things, even if it was based on a parable from the 4th century BC. Would it connect with young people? Or anyone? It made the Pokemon Go stuff look inspired.

Continuing his attack on the SNP, Mundell warned: “They think they have a divine right to hold power and not to be held to account. We know they don’t.”

The SNP does not have a divine right to power. Mundell appeared to be using his conference speech to try and disprove the divine right of kings. It was huge, if true.

The Tories, standing up for the social contract. Standing up for Britain. Or trade. Or something.

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