The Conservative Party of Britain is gathering this weekend for its annual conference in Manchester, northwest England. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is at the forefront of this event, striving to rejuvenate the party’s waning popularity as they brace themselves for an upcoming general election, which they are currently projected to lose to the Labour opposition.
This four-day conference, slated to commence on Sunday, bears the weight of repositioning the beleaguered party onto an election-ready platform by redirecting attention towards a more comprehensive policy agenda. This year’s theme, “long-term decisions for a brighter future,” underscores Sunak’s call to address pressing, far-reaching challenges facing the nation. However, as Britain grapples with its most severe cost-of-living crisis in a generation, soaring inflation, and sluggish economic growth, convincing voters of the Conservative Party’s right to retain power remains a daunting task.
The Conservative Party is still grappling with the fallout from turbulent periods under its recent leaders, Liz Truss and Boris Johnson. Prime Minister Sunak, who is about to attend his first party conference nearly a year into his term, faces the formidable challenge of unifying a fractious membership. Internal divisions are becoming increasingly evident on pivotal issues such as climate change, infrastructure spending, and taxation. Some Tories advocate for tax cuts to improve their standing in the polls.
These schisms might come to the fore during the conference, where fringe events run parallel to ministerial speeches on the main stage. Renowned figures like Finance Minister Jeremy Hunt, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, and the uncompromising Interior Minister Suella Braverman will address thousands of party delegates and attendees.
The conference is also expected to delve into highly politicized “culture war” issues, such as immigration and transgender rights, as part of an effort to energize the Tory grassroots and draw clear distinctions from the Labour Party. Three upcoming by-elections could be a litmus test for the Tories’ electoral viability, and they may face defeats in all of them, despite having won two in 2019.
Political commentator Matthew Goodwin has characterized the Tories as “firm underdogs” going into the general election, elevating the significance of this year’s conference. He notes that the party is languishing in the polls, and Rishi Sunak’s approval ratings have been on the decline in recent months. Sunak will likely aim to use this event and his keynote speech to outline the major themes of the impending campaign and distance himself from the unpopular premierships of Boris Johnson and Liz Truss.
Last year’s conference was overshadowed by then-leader Liz Truss’s ill-received mini-budget, unveiled just days before the event, which rattled financial markets and caused internal strife within her party. Truss, who had taken office only a month earlier, resigned after just 44 days, becoming the shortest-serving leader in British history. Sunak subsequently assumed party leadership unopposed and entered Downing Street as prime minister on October 25.
Sunak’s first year in office has been primarily focused on stabilizing the volatile economic landscape. He began 2023 by making five significant pledges, including halving inflation, stimulating economic growth, and curbing migrant boat arrivals across the English Channel. However, his progress on these fronts has been mixed as a self-imposed year-end deadline approaches. The Labour Party, seeking to portray the affluent Sunak as out of touch, has enjoyed sustained double-digit leads in the polls.
As the Conservative Party gears up for its annual conference under the theme “long-term decisions for a brighter future,” the stakes are high. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak faces the formidable challenge of rejuvenating the party’s image and rallying its membership as they prepare for an impending general election. Against the backdrop of a severe cost-of-living crisis and economic challenges, Sunak must convince voters that the Conservative Party deserves to remain in power. The conference’s significance is further amplified by the party’s underdog status in the polls and the need to distance itself from past leadership missteps. Sunak’s ability to address these challenges and project a compelling vision for the future will be closely watched as the conference unfolds.