The Conservatives are facing chaos at their party conference this year

May Johnson conservative Tories
Steve Topple

The Conservative Party conference looks set to face unprecedented levels of chaos this year. And if Theresa May was hoping the 2017 event at the Manchester Central and Midland hotels would run smoothly, she may be in for a shock.

The People’s Assembly (PA) has organised a six-day “festival of resistance” to coincide with the Conservatives’ conference. Running from Friday 29 September through to Wednesday 4 October, the event is set to be PA’s biggest yet. So here are the highlights of what’s on at this year’s “Take Back Manchester”.

Friday 29 September

Frack Free Greater Manchester has organised a coach trip to fracking site, Preston New Road, in Little Plumpton. The small village is at the centre of a political storm over shale gas extraction, with the government having granted a licence for Cuadrilla to frack there. The site has been the subject of court cases, accusations of police and private security violence and is seen by many as the front line against fracking.

In the evening, the North West branch of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) will be holding a rally over the only partially-lifted public sector pay cap. The cap, which was set at a 1% increase when the Conservatives first came back to power in 2010, has seen public sector workers like nurses face a 14% real terms cut in their wages.

Saturday 30 September

Workshops on engaging young people in politics, ending austerity, poverty, unemployment, and Donald Trump are taking place during the day. Later, campaign group Momentum is hosting a panel event, featuring journalist Paul Mason among others. At 6.30pm a “Flash Mob Choir” will be at Manchester Piccadilly Station to greet arriving Tories with some songs. And then it’s PA’s “Saturday Night Live” event, with guests including actress Maxine Peake, columnist Owen Jones and musician Brian Eno.

Sunday 1 October: the demo

Sunday is the big one: Take Back Manchester’s National Demonstration. PA will be calling for the Conservatives to listen, as they begin the first day of their conference. The rally will demand an end to austerity, a complete scrapping of the public sector pay cap and decent “health, homes, jobs and education”.

Speakers at the rally include:

  • Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell.
  • Actresses Maxine Peake and Julie Hesmondhalgh.
  • Journalists Gary Younge and Owen Jones.
  • Musicians Lowkey and Captain SKA.
  • Jolyon Rubinstein and Heydon Prowse from BBC The Revolution Will Be Televised.
  • Union leaders Len McCluskey, Mark Serwotka and Louise Regan.

Sunday 1 October: the after party

An after party has been organised following the rally. Rapper Lowkey, Captain SKA, of Liar, Liar fame, and Children of Zeus will all appear. You can get tickets for the after party here. And Lowkey told The Canary:

We have witnessed an era of state welfare for bankers and arms dealers who peddle perpetual war and it is the hardest working in society who have borne the brunt of these reverse Robin Hood policies which steal from the poorest to give to the richest. The time has come for a broad coalition of forces to collectivise and sweep this bankrupt ideology and its acolytes from the corridors of power.

We can choose a society guided by empathy and interconnectedness or we can allow apathy and individualism to atomise us further and widen the chasms of alienation between us all. No to the weak, self hating state and parasitic corporate dominance and yes to a new tomorrow which must be struggled for and won! See you in Manchester for the People’s Assembly Take Back MCR festival on 1 October.

Monday 2 – Tuesday 3 October

Workshops will take place across the days and evenings. These include discussions on fracking, the NHS, foreign policy, housing and economics; topics that the Conservatives have repeatedly failed on. It’s worth noting that since the Conservatives came to power in the 2010 Coalition government:

  • 400,000 children are now living in poverty, a figure which rose 100,000 in 2015/16. 67% of those are from working families.
  • Food bank usage has risen, with over half a million people reliant [paywall] on just the Trussell Trust for food packages.
  • National debt has increased by more than 50%.
  • Homelessness has risen by 54%.
  • Corporations have seen tax cuts [pdf] while the tax gap is around £120bn per year.
  • The NHS has seen a real terms cut in the amount of money given to it per patient. While the amount of NHS money paid to ‘independent’ companies has more than doubled to £8bn a year.
  • The government has cut the number of people getting social care by 26%. And it has cut £50m from children’s mental health services.

Several book launches are also happening, including Glyn Robbin’s There’s No Place: The American Housing Crisis and what it means for the UK and Chris Nineham’s How The Establishment Lost Control.

Wednesday 4 October

As May delivers her speech to the Conservative Party conference, PA and Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) will hold a “Wall of Sound” around the venue. People are invited to bring pots, pans, drums, megaphones and whistles to let the Conservatives know that disabled people have had enough. As The Canary has been documenting, at the start of September the UN released its fourth report in 14 months into the government’s treatment of disabled people. It has said the Conservative government is failing disabled people in over 70 areas – from basic human rights, to not tackling discrimination, to the impact of austerity and welfare cuts.

But moreover, since 2010, the Coalition and Conservative governments have cut:

  • The Independent Living Fund (ILF), which previously supported people with care packages. Since the government cut it, in some areas 88% of people have seen their care packages reduced by up to 50%.
  • Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for sick and disabled people in the Work-Related Activity Group (WRAG) by a third. This will affect 500,000 people.
  • 55% a week from ESA for sick and disabled 18-to-25-year-olds.
  • 51,000 disabled people’s Motability vehicles, which were vital for them to live independently.
  • Personal Independence Payments (PIP) from 164,000 people living with mental health issues. And the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has reduced or stopped PIP for nearly half (45%) of all claimants.

As the UN noted, the Conservative government has created a “human catastrophe” in the UK for disabled people. So PA and DPAC will be ensuring May and her party know about this.

Take back the UK from the Conservatives

The festival is one of the largest PA has ever organised. And with support from across the political spectrum, it’s sure to be one to remember. But, ultimately, it’s the message it will be delivering to the Conservatives that’s most important. And it’s one saying that the people of the UK have had enough; they won’t be taking Conservative policies any more, and it’s time to “Take Back” the UK – not from the EU, but from the Conservatives.

UPDATE

This article was updated at 17:33 to reflect the partial lifting of the public sector pay cap.

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