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by Louise Wilson
09 July 2024
Sketch: ‘Good Conservative’ Suella Braverman definitely isn’t making her leadership bid

Suella Braverman was addressing the PopCon conference | Alamy

Sketch: ‘Good Conservative’ Suella Braverman definitely isn’t making her leadership bid

There are “good conservatives” and there are “bad conservatives”, Suella Braverman tells a room of (presumably good) conservatives at the Popular Conservatism Conference.

Definitely not setting out her stall to be the next leader, she says it is time to “face the facts as to why we ended up in that situation”. It was, naturally, the bad Conservatives’ fault. And where would that lead the UK now? Well, Labour is about to start “dismantling structures that had enabled prosperity” she warns. Like those set up by good Conservative Liz Truss.

So what went wrong with the Conservative campaign, asks Braverman. She says the lessons to be learned may be “painful”, but it must be done. “We’re all learning our lessons rights now and learning is good, right?”

Putting on her best impression of a learned woman, she blames the previous government – of which she was part, don’t forget – for not cutting taxes, lowering migration or stopping the “lunatic woke virus working its way through the British state”. Truly a person of great intellect.

She also has solutions... One is to “restore trust” and another is to “restore hope”. So far, so Starmer

“We did none of that,” she adds. Instead the Conservatives tried to “pretend” it did to all that while at the same time as pursuing the “farcical gimmick” of banning smoking. “We talked big, we produced policy paper after policy paper, but when it came down to it we did nothing of significance…”, she pauses, “…on housebuilding.” Unclear if that was for dramatic effect or whether she was just realising how little she achieved in office.

The Conservatives, she continues, also refused to talk about the “war”. By which she means immigration, not the actual wars going on around the world.

But the biggest issue, she insists, was that the Tories no longer had the “luxury of monopoly”. Reform were ready to outflank them on their right, a “phenomenon” which was “entirely predictable and avoidable and all our own fault”. She urges colleagues not to go “smearing” Reform – presumably because she hopes to woo them back into the Conservative Party one day.

But Braverman isn’t just here to point out problems. She also has solutions. She tells the conference that there are three things that need to be done. One is to “restore trust” and another is to “restore hope”. So far, so Starmer.

The third is “credibility on immigration”, and she says the Tories have been “weak” and “squeamish” on this issue. It is time to leave the ECHR, she insists.

“We’ve flirted with it and made all of the right noises…” but they’ve never done it, she adds in mock rage. “Whoever is leading the party” – she couldn’t possibly be thinking of herself – “we must have now a policy of leaving the European Convention on Human Rights,” she insists.

Wrapping up her speech, she tells the room that they are the ones who stand for “true conservatism”. They are “champions of the family” and the, uh, “party of duty”. Indeed many of them must have done the deed to get the family.

And they must not be “nervous,” “reticent” or “shy” about loving Britain, Braverman says in response to non-existent claims she’s ever been reticent to say exactly what she thinks, even when ill-advised.

“Onwards, comrades,” she cries, triggering some nervous laughter in the room. Is she secretly a socialist plant? It’d explain so much.

Minutes later – and just a few miles away – a man often accused of being a conservative plant is addressing a separate conference on the role of AI. New health secretary Wes Streeting begins his ‘in conversation’ with event at the Future of Britain Conference – led by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change – by struggling to tell a joke.

He promises too to deliver a “big shift in mindset” – that’s the fancier way of saying ‘change’

Blair is now his “second favourite prime minister”. So who is his favourite? Streeting is flustered by the question. Obviously it’s the man who just gave him this job, he replies, backing it up with a grin reminiscent of Liz Truss. Let’s hope he makes a better government minister than stand-up comedian.

Over the next 20 minutes he pulls all the usual slogans out the bag. “Powerhouse”, “revolution”, “long-term plan”, “drivers of economic growth”. But he promises too to deliver a “big shift in mindset” – that’s the fancier way of saying ‘change’ – and says it is time for some “tough love” in the Department of Health.

“If you love someone, you have to force them to change,” he warns menacingly. Though he goes on to accept that the word “reform” often sends shivers down the spines of health bosses.

In a bid to reassure them, he insists this is about a “shift in the centre of gravity”. Is that some new NHS treatment? Is zero-gravity the 21st century snake oil? Or maybe Labour’s plan to reduce waiting lists is simply to float a bunch of folk off into space?

Who knows, their campaign wasn’t exactly clear.

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