By Manal Ahmed | Political Editor
The Conservative Party conference began in Manchester on Monday 3 October and featured many new ministers following the cabinet’s reshuffle.
The Conservative party’s recently announced flagship policy of “levelling up” has left many sceptical over what the policy entails. The Levelling Up White Paper’s purpose, announced during the Queen’s Speech earlier this year, was to decentralise power by “empower[ing] local leaders and communities” and increasing productivity outside of London.
Secretary of State Michael Gove and Under-Secretary for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Neil O’Brien gathered in Manchester. They announced their commitment to “raise living standards” by “growing the private sector”, “improve public services”, and increase “pride” within communities.
The government intends to “raise living standards”, especially in cities and areas with high economic output but significant levels of income deprivation. This will be financed through a £4.8 billion Levelling Up Fund. Furthermore, a £2.5 billion National Skill Fund will be allocated to supply adults with easier access to training wherever they live in the country.
However, this is likely to be impacted the likelihood of rising unemployment now that the furlough scheme has ended. Chancellor Rishi Sunak stated that it would not be possible for him “or quite frankly any chancellor, to save every single person’s job”, but for those that have lost jobs Sunak wanted to assure them that they are “throwing literally the kitchen sink at helping them” acquire new opportunities.
The new Foreign Secretary Liz Truss addressed the ‘special relationship’ between the UK and the US, stating that the U.K. should not be “worried like some teenage girl at a party” if the US seeks to strengthen ties with other allies. Describing the relationship as “special but not exclusive”, Truss sought to reduce speculation of strain between the close allies brought on by the Western withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the conflict over the Northern Ireland protocol.
During his recent visit to the United States, Prime Minister Boris Johnson indicated that he was no longer as hopeful of the UK being “first in line” for a trade agreement with their long-time ally. Instead, the government is aiming to make “incremental steps” in improving trade with the US, while also exploring trade deals with allies such as Australia and India.
Truss’s view that US hesitancy to pursue a trade deal with the UK came from a “reaction against trade”, where both 2016 US Presidential candidates advocated against it. Despite Truss describing it as an “issue with trade” rather than an issue with the UK specifically, President Biden stated that should the conflict between the UK and EU over the Northern Ireland protocol end in a closed border, then there would be no US-UK deal.
The Foreign Secretary also described the AUKUS pact as an opportunity to make “the world safer” and to prevent conflict.
The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, announced at the conference that an independent inquiry would be established to determine how Sarah Everard’s killer, Metropolitan police officer Wayne Couzens, was allowed to maintain his occupation despite multiple infractions of indecent exposure. Patel said the murder “exposed unimaginable failures in policing” and the inquiry was necessary to “ensure something like this can never happen again.”
The inquiry was announced the day after a woman attending the Conservative Party conference had been assaulted. Clementine Cowton, director of external affairs at Octopus Energy Group informed the occupants of a fringe event that she had been “violently assaulted” at the Midland Hotel in the early hours of the day. She said, “I do want to just take the opportunity to say, women are often unsafe in places where other people feel safe, and it’s really important that we start to take that much more seriously as a society and starting with the police.
The new Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Secretary, Dominic Raab, came under fire from civil rights groups and fellow MPs after he vowed to overhaul the Human Rights Act to end the “elastic interpretations of rights” that allegedly allowed abuse of the Act which enshrined the European Convention on Human Rights [ECHR] into domestic legislation. Critics, such as Amnesty International UK’s CEO Sacha Deshmukh, argue that this is “the complete opposite of justice”, as the legislation has set the precedent for landmark justice cases such as the Hillsborough disaster.
In the same respect, he proclaimed his desire to increase use of electronic tagging to monitor alcohol and drug consumption, and to turn guidance in the Victims’ Code to law to ensure victims “see justice done”.
The government is allocating a £183 million investment to alcohol-monitoring tags to curb alcohol consumption. This will track over 12,000 prison leavers that previously committed crimes under the influence – hopefully, this will cut the £22 billion cost of alcohol-related crime.
Boris Johnson delivered his keynote speech, closing the conference with a display of humour, a positive outlook and little information provided regarding policies. Many businesses and think tanks remain sceptical of the promise of a “high wage, high skill” future given the current labour shortage. The expected rise in National Insurance to finance the NHS and social care was also a significant cause of anxiety for the party of low taxes, but Johnson sought to ease attendees by expressing how former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher would have done the same in the face a “meteorite” such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
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