Takeaways from the Conservative Party Conference

How did it come to this? With just under 25 years of post-Thatcher positioning for the centrist middle ground between the two main parties, we now regress back to a leadership choice next May that harks back to the days of Macmillan’s “you never had it so good” vs Healey’s 1970s mantra of “squeeze the property speculators until the pips squeak”. And we all thought Britain had come so far.

Well, here we are: the Eton/Oxford-educated, grouse-shooting toff PM, pitted against the son of a marxist LSE lecturer. And their respective party conferences seemed to reflect these backgrounds.

Here are the top ten takeaways from this week’s Conservative Party Conference:

  1. The conference was certainly buzzing with ideas, as befits the last conference before a general election, which appeared to be in contrast to Labour’s rather flat conference last week. But the wild card of UKIP is certainly making all predictions for next May highly volatile.
  2. Could the long-awaited cross-party consensus on infrastructure be emerging? Labour peer Lord Adonis was spotted at several Tory fringe events, and was name-checked approvingly by a Tory MP at one other.
  3. “Slow money” was a buzz phrase used by several long-term institutions, notably L&G. There’s no shortage of capital for major projects; what’s missing is political will, they said.
  4. Even the Tory faithful are getting the need for housing delivery. Unusually, no gasps of outrage were heard on the fringe when greenbelt development was mooted.
  5. However, a lack of wider infrastructure as well as the immigration issue remain principal concerns for the Nimby tendency.
  6. A missing part of the jigsaw for investors is the future of minimum energy efficiency standards, business rates reform and certainty over EU membership. Sadly, the party doesn’t believe in the first, doesn’t understand the second and won’t come to a sensible view on the third.
  7. Expect progress on garden cities and serious devolution, but not until after the general election.
  8. It really is a housing crisis. Lowest quartile household income — £18k, mid point — £32k, needed for a mortgage — £36k. Two-thirds of first-time buyers have help from parents. Huge inequality is brewing, both between London vs the regions, as well as between baby boomers and Gen X, and will be made worse by the new baby boom — eight million births in 2000-12.
  9. It will be worst in London. Rick Blakeway from the GLA told the fringe that in January next year the population of the capital would hit 8.6 million, breaking the last record set in 1939. London needs a new borough every eight weeks to keep up.
  10. Local government in England is crying out for devolution, for even just control of what’s raised and spent in their areas, but Tory councillors, like their Labour counterparts, are struggling to convince their MPs. English votes for English laws seems a pointless distraction in the context of this mismatch between Westminster and the local town halls.

David Marks is a partner at Brockton Capital