Politics

Weed-smoking renters and Nigel Farage karaoke: The most unhinged moments from Tory conference

From comments about weed-smoking renters to ‘woke science’ and stepping on dogs, here’s a roundup of the most bizarre moments from Tory party conference

Conservative party conference

It's been a big week for the ruling party. Image: Big Issue composite/Alexander Brown via Twitter/Telegraph via YouTube/Emily Hewertson via Twitter

The Conservative Party Conference has just drawn to a close in Manchester. It’s a serious moment for the governing party to set out its agenda in what will likely be its last gathering before a general election, yes. 

But it’s also a big boozy get-together for diehard Tories, bringing ambitious politicians dangerously close to microphones. Unsurprisingly, it’s seen its fair share of unhinged moments.

From comments about weed-smoking renters to ‘woke science’ and stepping on dogs, here’s a roundup of the most bizarre moments from Tory party conference.

Not all renters smoke weed or are in gangs

“There are plenty of young people who are in the private rented sector who are not weed-smoking bad people in gangs and crack dens and everything else and smashing up the neighbourhood,” were the words of housing minister Rachel Maclean, speaking to a fringe event run by the National Residential Landlords Association.

In an attempt to defend the much-delayed Renters Reform Bill, Maclean revealed her four children – all in their late 20s and 30s – managed to rent privately and vote for the Conservatives.

She was accused by the London Renters Union of “utter contempt” for renters, and sparked memes galore.

Woke science

“Kicking woke ideology out of science”. If you know what the government’s new pledge means, please write to letters@bigissue.com.

Suella Braverman stepping on a guide dog

Speaks for itself, really.

The attack on ‘sinister’ 15-minute cities

Plans are afoot to stop you going to the shops when you want. To stop you driving very far from your house. Fifteen-minute cities are coming for your freedom. That’s the – baseless – idea getting airtime at Tory conference.

In his speech, transport secretary Mark Harper railed against the “Labour-backed movement” to “remove your freedom to get to A to B how you want.”

There are “sinister” plans to decide “how often you go to the shops”, he said.

Except there aren’t. We’ve explored the conspiracy theory here.

The meat tax

“It’s no wonder that Labour seems so relaxed about taxing meat,” net zero minister Claire Coutinho told Tory conference.

While ideas for a meat tax have been floated for years – research in 2018 found it would save 220,000 annual deaths – Labour has not backed the policy.

By the way, the taxpayer already bears the cost of producing meat in the UK, with an estimated £1.5 billion a year in subsidies going towards livestock farming

Tory MPs failing to back this rhetoric up

Pressed on some of these outlandish claims, Tory ministers on media rounds have struggled to present evidence.

Science secretary Michelle Donelan was confronted by Victoria Derbyshire, who asked her: “Is this how desperate the Conservative Party is now, you’re making up stuff?”

Claire Coutinho, pressed on her comments about Labour’s support for a meat tax by Sky’s Sophy Ridge, talked instead about Ulez, calling her remarks a “light hearted moment” in her speech. No evidence of a meat wax was forthcoming.

Meanwhile, nuclear and networks minister Andrew Bowie couldn’t name an example of 15-minute cities being used to restrict freedom, but did say: “People are concerned already.”

Police escorting a mild-mannered Tory heckler out

As home secretary Suella Braverman gave conference her thoughts on “gender ideology”, a mild-mannered heckler from the audience called her rhetoric “childish”.

Not a police matter you might think. But Andrew Boff, the Conservative chair of the London Assembly, found himself being escorted out of the conference centre with a police officer holding his arm.

His treatment raised questions as to why police were getting involved. “The involvement of Greater Manchester Police is a wholly disproportionate interference in the right to free speech,” Kevin Blowe of police monitoring organisation NetPol told The Big Issue.

“They are not the Conservative Party’s private security – and they need to explain what powers they are relying on.”

It “wasn’t a policing decision”, a policing source told The Big Issue, adding that police were present to support event security.

Braverman said Boff’s heckles were “silly” but he should be forgiven and let back into conference.

Priti Patel dancing with Nigel Farage

Nigel Farage has been on the agenda at Tory conference, with Rishi Sunak saying he’d welcome the arch-Brexiteer into the Conservative Party. Alongside grand machinations, party conferences are also a chance to let loose with some like-minded individuals.

So, late at night in one of the bars playing host to right-wing revellers, you might have been lucky enough to run into Priti Patel and Nigel Farage’s rendition of Franki Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”. It’s just too good to be true.

Toploader providing a live music moment for the ages

Hendrix at Woodstock. The Beatles on that rooftop. Jay-Z starting his Glastonbury headline set with Wonderwall. North of a million people turning out to watch the Rolling Stones play Copacabana Beach. And now, added to the pantheon of legendary gigs, we have Toploader playing at the Conservative Party Conference, Manchester, 2023.

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