By Alexia Antoniou (3rd Year Politics Student and Conservative Party member)
I have recently arrived back in Canterbury after spending four very busy yet exciting and informative days in Birmingham, at the Conservative Party Conference 2014. The organisation, atmosphere and variety of topics being discussed at the event resulted in me having the most wonderful time and truly confirmed my political alliance and motivation to forge a career in politics for myself, after I graduate. With such a vibrant and diverse mix of MP’s, party members, activists and Conservative Future representatives, the networking opportunities were endless and interesting. It was great to debate ‘hot’ topics with a wide range of individual view point.
Since this was my first time attending such an event, I was very unsure about what to expect and of how much value there was to be taken away from it.
I was surprised to see so many different types of events being hosted by organisations and individuals whose sectors and priorities were so different. Corporate bodies from FTSE-100 companies spoke about the economic outlook, charities spoke about human rights and many other topics were discussed and raised. This led to the conference having a genuine buzz about itself from the get go. It seemed that everyone was confident, up for the fight and ready to understand modern day politics from the numerous points of view on offer. With the General Election fast approaching and despite there being a defection and a resignation in the build up to the annual meeting, the positivity led to me making the most out of my four days. I really allowed myself to step outside of my comfort zone and hence I learnt a huge amount. If only there were more than 24 hours in a day!
I attended many speeches and fringe events during my time at conference:
● Policy Exchange – Benefits Street: What more needs to be done to help people into work? Speakers: Allegra Stanton, Political Editor – BBC news night, Mark Harper MP, White Dee Benefits Street.
This was a very interesting talk and it was extremely crowded!There were people spilling out of the room to hear what White Dee had to say about the benefit system and The Benefits Street star received a warm welcome at the talk hosted by the think-tank Policy Exchange. Overall, it seemed as though White Dee agreed with many Conservative politicians that a tougher stance needed to be taken with those claiming benefits and that more needs to be done to help people into work.
She did however say that she could ‘very well vote for UKIP’ and she also made a few jibes at the Conservative Party by being critical of the work that Iain Duncan Smith has been doing, saying that he was “out of touch with the real world”. She also didn’t forget to remind people in the room that UKIP “has had a few extra members joining recently” and hence her sarcasm brought humour to what is a serious issue.
Overall, I would say that it was great that White Dee came to address party conference. Who better would know what more needs to be done to help people into work than someone who knows what it’s like to live a life on benefits.
● Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Sajid David –
Sajid David is the Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport. He is a very down to earth person and is known as a ‘rising star’ in political circles. His speech was enthusiastic, engaging, and passionate and he alluded to some very interesting points in his talk which focused around the positive economic outlook for Britain. It was refreshing to hear him say ‘yes, I was a banker and I’m not ashamed of those facts’ because usually there is a stereotype that big politicians are bankers and shouldn’t be proud of it. Why not?
● Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Liz Truss –
Watching Liz Truss speak for the first time as Seceretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was very interesting. As we know, Liz was recently promoted by David Cameron and it was great to hear her address conference on a big platform for the first time. She was humours in her talk, she told conference ‘“We are producing more varieties of cheese than the French. And we are selling tea to China – Yorkshire tea. When it comes to British food and drink, we have had never had it so good.” Her key focus for her talk was that there would be better ‘pesticide regulation and the rules surrounding GM food’ and that ‘the Conservatives would seek to re-negotiate a better deal for farmers’
● Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith –
This event was one of my favourite parts of my entire experience. Iain Duncan Smith is my local MP and it was great to watch him in action. He saved our constituency front row seats in the symphony hall so I had a fantastic view and could really feel the reaction of the audience. As you can imagine, when out canvassing in my home town we are always asked about what Iain is focused on and what new policies he is undertaking, so this was a great time to listen to him talk and explain new policies.
He said he aims to change the ‘something for nothing’ culture and attitude that is prevalent amongst UK citizens and that decisive action would be taken to get public spending under control by fully committing to the long term economic plan. He said that he has a job and that he’s signed a contract with hard working tax payers that fund those without a job. He also spoke about job centres – he said that those people who are looking for work should take a job when it’s offered as opposed to being ‘picky’. This point is certainly something I agree with strongly.
Iain also highlighted some key success stories about the welfare system under this government. More people are out of benefits since the last time the conservatives were in government and there are fewer job seekers than before the recession. He did however stress that this was still not enough.
The ambition and eagerness to improve from all politicians was one of the most pleasing feelings that I have received from conference. All speaks made it very clear that we should and are striving for better.
Iain said there would be a new attitude pressed onto the British public which was ‘earn or learn’ and that job centre coaches will work in school with children from the age of 15, especially targeting those who are more vulnerable to fall out of employment. There will be a ’15-21 single package’ created that will improve hope and aspiration of young people.
If the Conservatives were to win the next General election the benefit cap would also be lowered again – ending the something for nothing culture. Lowering the cap ensures that people cannot have a comfortable life on benefits. Iain further introduced an idea which is being trialed at the moment which is the ‘pre-paid benefit card’, again a scheme which is hoped will combat issues of misspending in the welfare system.
● Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles
I also watched the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, talk. He made the point that it was time for change and that Scottish MPs should not have power without responsibility and there should be English votes for English Laws. He said we can be proud that DC is determined to deliver fairness to all the nations of the UK and that any solution that involves tax payers funding MPs is not the answer, mentioning that devolution is not about new names but new powers for communities.
Pickels began to list the good that the government has done so far. He said that there are fewer civil servants and that he is now working in Theresa May’s office to save tax payers £9 million per year – these are the real savings the conservatives have promised and delivered.
He said that 5,300 families have been helped with the help to buy scheme and that the Conservatives will support an extra 100,000 buyers to get their foot on the property ladder.
I also attended other events and speeches such as –
● Conservatives for Cyprus with MEP Charles Tannock
● London Assembly meeting with David Cameron and Boris Johnson
● CF young Professionals Midnight Reception with Liam Fox, London CF committee
● Secretary of Health speech Jeremy Hunt
● Secretary of State for Education speech with Nicky Morgan
Overall, I really enjoyed my time in Birmingham and felt I have learnt and understood a vast amount. It was especially pleasing to be surrounded such like-minded and bright people and to see that their passion for this Party is just as passionate as mine. I strongly recommend any Conservative members to attend the event next year – you will love it!