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Conservatives desperate for a bit of Boris Johnson sparkle at virtual conference

Written by on 3 October 2020

Ordinarily, conference season is an opportunity for political parties to push the reset button.

The three-day gathering can help leaders heal rifts with tetchy MPs – a relaxed dinner here, a drink with a group of backbenchers there.

Put plainly, party conferences are the perfect place for leaders to score political brownie points with MPs who need a bit of love,

But this year conference is online, which means no warm white wine, no packed out keynote speech and crucially no opportunity to hug it out.

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After weeks of fractious scenes in the Commons with over 80 Conservative MPs lining up to rally against the leadership, this is a much-needed missed opportunity.

So what will the Conservative online conference look like?

The party has created a virtual venue, designed to mirror the Birmingham conference centre where it would have been held.

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Participants can hear fireside chats with the cabinet, panel events with ministers and there are still a wealth of fringe events to attend virtually.

Party co-chair Amanda Milling told Sky News more people have signed up than ever before, perhaps because this year the event is free.

She believes it will still be a valuable networking opportunity, as well as a chance to reiterate the party’s ‘Build Back Better’ message and dedication to its manifesto.

Critics question the point of a conference where people can’t meet in person to catch up and take stock, but most accept a virtual event is better than nothing at all.

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The big question for the prime minister is will he be able to deliver what his party so desperately wants? A bit of that Boris Johnson sparkle.

After months of watching him from behind a screen and a nagging fear that Mr Johnson may have lost his mojo, activists want to know he’s still their man.

They want to feel the groundswell they felt at last year’s event, when the party was riding high on big promises and a renewed sense of optimism in their leader.

And crucially they need a message to take back to voters who backed the party – many for the first time – that the pledges they made to get into parliament won’t be forgotten in the wake of a global pandemic.

The Conservative Party conference runs from today until Tuesday, with speeches from Dominic Raab, Priti Patel, Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson.