The Home Secretary quoted poetry in a rapturous appearance at Tory Conference
“They have tried to make me into a hate figure because I tell the truth,” Suella Braverman complained today on stage at the Conservative conference in Manchester. But in the room there was (almost) nothing but love.
The Home Secretary made herself the main character of this conference before it even began, with her renewed statement of intent to leave the European Convention of Human Rights dominating headlines. Back in May she soft-launched her leadership campaign in a speech at the National Conservatism Conference in London. Then, she positioned herself on the Right of the Tory Party, hitting the familiar targets of identity politics and elite interference; her biggest cheer came when she reiterated that women do not have a penis.
This week in Manchester, the figure at the lectern was more serious. Drawing once again on her family history, the Home Secretary said that “the wind of change that carried my own parents across the globe in the 20th century was a mere gust compared to the hurricane that is coming”.
When it came to the Human Rights Act, she joked that it should have been called “the Criminal Rights Act”, and got another loud whoop for taking aim at “bogus asylum seekers”.
Then something strange happened. The Home Secretary looked to Jeremy Corbyn for inspiration. Having referred to the Conservatives as “the trade union of the British people”, she requested her raucous audience indulge her for a moment. The hall fell quiet. As soon as she said that “I think we should adopt as our motto these lines from the poet Shelley”, most in the audience realised what she was about to say.
“Rise like lions after slumber,” she began, echoing the lines from Shelley’s poem The Masque of Anarchy which Corbyn put to use on the Glastonbury stage six years ago. Reaching the end of the sequence, she proclaimed, “You are many, they are few!” Braverman likely isn’t as keen on her Romantics as the former Labour leader, but it was a smart choice from an unapologetic populist.
The crowd was thrilled as she stressed that the Conservatives “stand with the many”. One heckler, a Conservative London Assembly member, was kicked out after calling the speech a “homophobic rant”, but there were no cans of orange paint nor teenagers armed with glue.
The Opposition was attacked as out of touch, brimming with “luxury beliefs” and all presumably occupying the same elevated corner of Hampstead. A man two rows in front clapped together flip-flops bearing Starmer’s face, some merch bought from the Conference gift shop. I spotted him afterwards and asked him what he’d made of it all. “She’s going to be the next leader of the Conservative Party,” he said, sounding like a proud father. As the throngs moved out into the foyer, he can’t have been the only one leaving with that view.