Conservative Autumn Conference 2013: what to look out for

The Conservatives are about to kick off their party conference in Manchester. In recent months things have looked more positive for the party with the economy showing signs of recovery and some polls showing Conservatives pulling level with the Labour Party for the first time in 18 months. Ahead of the conference there has been speculation from Manchester of champagne being delivered to the main conference venues. The party famously banned bubbly after the beginning of the recession – but could this be the year the Conservatives are poised to lift those party conference austerity measures?

However, despite an improved few months it is fair to say that unity within the party remains delicate. Last month, rebel MPs helped defeat the party’s policy on military intervention in Syria and earlier this year there were rebellions over a scheduled referendum on European Union membership and plans to legalise gay marriage.

This disunity will perhaps be best displayed by the grassroots attendance at conference. In the 1970s the Conservative Party could still claim a membership of over a million but today that membership has shrunk to 134,000. It has halved since David Cameron became leader. To make matters worse a ComRes poll out recently found that 38% of Conservative backbenchers will be unlikely to make the trip to Manchester.

In terms of policies we know that David Cameron will announce a tax-break for married couples following the deal with the Liberal Democrats which saw them announce free school meals for infants. However, it will be interesting to see if there are any other Conservative vote winning policies suggested.

The Conservatives will be keen to use the conference to show they are on the side of people who are suffering from falling living standards. Hence the conference theme and slogan: “For hardworking people”. There will be lots of talk of how the government has cut income tax and created more jobs and there will be announcements designed to help people with the cost of living.

It will not all be positive though; expect the Conservatives to use the conference to put more pressure on Labour Leader Ed Miliband to try and turn his supposed summer of discontent into an autumn of despair.

Gary Jones