Tory conference: ‘Four days in the sun when the Government moves to Birmingham’
Never mind about where MPs will decant to when the crumbling Houses of Parliament are refurbished – for four days next week the seat of Government is going to be in Birmingham.
The Prime Minister, the cabinet, other ministers and MPs, will gather at the International Convention Centre on Sunday for the Conservative party conference.
Hyatt Regency, which is the conference hotel, and the bars and restaurants of Brindleyplace, will become a noisy, heaving mass of power politics, and Birmingham knows it really must put on its Sunday best and take the people who run the country to its heart.
The opening day is bound to be a test for Birmingham city council leader John Clancy, who has to step into the lions’ den to make one of the most important speeches so far of his fledgling leadership.
Cllr Clancy, Labour through and through, has been allotted a maximum three minutes to welcome the Tories to Birmingham at a reception organised by Marketing Birmingham, Centre for Cities and HSBC, to be held at the Library of Birmingham.
He will speak in advance of Communities and Local Government Secretary Sajid Javid, who has special responsibility for the Midlands Engine initiative and is someone Birmingham certainly needs to impress.
No doubt the Conservative conference logo – A Country That Works for Everyone – will be displayed in the room and this will be uncomfortable for Cllr Clancy, but he must try to put party politics to one side.
Party conferences are notoriously difficult venues for politicians invited to give a welcoming address to representatives of an opposing party. Get it wrong with a too-political speech and you are likely to be greeted by stony silence, or even worse.
If Cllr Clancy plays his hand well he can get all of the right messages across about Birmingham’s ambitious inclusive growth programme, with a few hints about what the Government can do to help.
Clancy has let it be known he welcomes the arrival of the Conservative conference, if for nothing else as a money-spinner for the city centre. He might be tempted to tell Tory representatives to spend as much as possible in Birmingham’s Michelin-starred restaurants and pubs, with a cheeky “we don’t care, we’ll take anyone’s cash” jibe.
More seriously, the council leader understands that Birmingham will have a precious four days to impress the Government with its impressive economic renaissance and vision for the future – an opportunity that will not be available to other cities.
He could invite the Tories to simply look outside of the conference hall to get an understanding of the way Birmingham is already changing – the £500 million Paradise development is well under way, Arena Central is finally starting to take shape, Midland Metro trams will soon be running to Centenary Square, and just down the road the giant Smithfield development, the largest of its type in Europe, is under starter’s orders.
There are plenty of impressive statistics to throw at the Government, not least Birmingham’s position as the top spot for foreign investment outside of London and a £2 billion investment deal signed by the council leader with Chinese developers Country Garden.
He will clearly wish to draw attention to the pending arrival in 2026 of HS2, upon which so much of Birmingham’s future regeneration hopes and job creation opportunities rest. He will also want to welcome the West Midlands Combined Authority and metro mayor, while impressing upon Mrs May that an £8 billion devolution package approved last year, as welcome as it is, must be just the start of something far bigger if the Government is to live up to promises to devolve power and budgets from Whitehall to the regions.
He is likely to say “we are with you on devolution, but you have to meet us half way”.
Quite apart from Cllr Clancy’s three minutes in the sun, the conference offers unique opportunities for Birmingham city council and its inward investment arm Marketing Birmingham to network across a busy session of fringe meetings, getting up close and personal with Ministers and Government advisers.
The council will hope ministers at the conference can shed some light on Mrs May’s industrial strategy and the future of regeneration initiatives like the Midlands Engine and Midlands Connect. The Prime Minister has stressed that she wants to see economic development spread more evenly across the whole country, while Chancellor Philip Hammond has spoken of boosting the post-Brexit economy by investing in more public infrastructure, but what does all of this mean for Birmingham and the West Midlands?
Tomorrow: Chamberlain Files’ guide to the Tory conference fringe.
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