In the belly of the beast

Armed police. Checkpoints. Barriers everywhere. The security for Conservative Party Conference is, if unused to how the elites cocoon themselves, overwhelming.


It’s not quite the Green Zone. Protestors are allowed to make their presence felt, which means these windswept plazas echo with the sound of the Benny Hill theme tune.

Whether you’re here representing a massive tech firm, an oil company, a transphobic hate group, or – um- Chester Zoo, all must walk the gauntlet of Yakety Sax.

In truth, this felt like a shellshocked gathering. Truss, as we all know, has already murdered the Queen and crashed the pound.

For those of us who expected her to begin by accidentally nuking Wiltshire, things have gone better than expected.

Mooching around the stalls, talking to insiders and stakeholders, the main impression is that no one knows anything. Crucial ministerial posts are still left unfilled. Today, it seems, is dead wood day. Shapps – or Michael Green – and Gavin Williamson rush past, surrounded by acolytes.

Michael Gove is in the next room, who everyone says is very clever yet can’t ever point to one useful thing he has ever done.

George Eustace does a double take upon spotting an environmental campaigner, remembers he doesn’t have to pretend to care any more, and rushes off.

It all feels a bit like the last days of Saigon.

A lot of the people here making it all happen seem terrifyingly young. These are the true believers – not the types following the wind to Blair or Cameron in 1996 or 2009.

These people will remain Tory when the last bedrock is fracked, when Windsor is underwater, when the super-rich have retreated behind the electric fences of their New Zealand compounds.

I shan’t write about my day job here, though it’s fairly easy to find out what I do if you’re interested. Ours is an apolitical organisation operating in a space which is, by its very nature, extremely political.

Meanwhile, these people, these gimlet-eyed, monied, often deeply cynical people, are the government of the day.

So we go and connect with those who disagree, sometimes, with our very existence. And we must explain, and raise awareness and argue, and be honest and truthful.

And events like this, this gathering of the pole climbers, the hangers on, the teenage zealots and the ageing core, are both an anachronism and a warning, a Potemkin parody and a marketplace, a reminder of what we have to fight and how much we have to lose.

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