In what has been dubbed a ‘chaotic’ event, the Conservative party conference raised several human rights issues that sparked both media and public debate. The conference, which has now come to a close, made national and international headlines throughout the week, for political stances on migrants, asylum seekers, education and the LGBTQ+ community.
Addressing the conference, Braverman stated that trans women “have no place in biological women’s wards”. The remarks were made following the health secretary’s statement that “biological men should not have treatment in the same wards as biological women”.
The home secretary, backing the stance, stated that the issue was one of women’s dignity, women’s safety and privacy. However, shortly after the speech it was reported that there have not been any complaints recorded about the presence of trans women on hospital wards.
Ten trusts were asked for data from the period from April 2020 to March 2021. A further 50 were asked, with respect to the period January 2021 – December 2021, and the same data was requested from 42 trusts for the months between July 2021 – June 2022.
However, in his closing speech, Rishi Sunak, the prime minister, backed the home secretary’s previous pledge to stop trans women from being treated in female hospital wards. On the issue, he stated: “A man is a man and a woman is a woman; it is just common sense.”
A court case pending…
As the conference ended, the human rights advocacy group Liberty announced on social media that they are pursuing a case against the home secretary for passing protest-related laws that had already been denied by parliament.
In a statement, Liberty said: “The Home Secretary has made protest restrictions she had no power to create. They were already rejected by parliament. Our parliamentary democracy exists to make sure governments can’t just do whatever they want.”
The news was announced the day after the Conservative London Assembly member Andrew Boff was removed from the conference hall for heckling home secretary Suella Braverman during the speech mentioned above, in which she called for the treatment of trans women on female hospital wards to end.
Andrew Boff was escorted out of the hall by security and police during the speech. He later told Channel 4 that what he was hearing horrified him.
“It horrified me.”
Conservative London Assembly member Andrew Boff was kicked out of the party conference hall for heckling home secretary Suella Braverman during her speech. He tells @PGMcNamara why he spoke up. pic.twitter.com/arLDSATnJB
— Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) October 3, 2023
Boff stated: “I don’t always believe what I’ve read on social media, and so I thought, well, I’m going to listen myself to what she’s saying, because I think that everybody should do that rather than reacting to a headline that happens to get tweeted.”
Boff continued: “And I listened to what she said and it horrified me, not just on the LGBT issue, but this again, vilification of asylum seekers, people who are coming here to have a better life. And it just seems cruel and it looks like bullying. And I never thought we were that kind of party – I still don’t think we are that kind of party.”
However, those weren’t the only issues that made headlines. Conservative London mayoral candidate Susan Hall claimed Jewish people are “frightened” by Sadiq Khan. Addressing the audience, she continued: “We need to defeat him for our Jewish community.” Many people from the Jewish community have since spoken out, refuting the claim and have called the rhetoric ‘dangerous’.
In response to the claim, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the largest communal Jewish organisation in the UK, issued a statement praising Sadiq Khan as someone who treated them “with friendship and respect”.
In a separate claim, which has since been dubunked, energy secretary Claire Coutinho inferred that the Labour Party intended to introduce a tax on meat. Coutinho told the conference: “It’s no wonder Labour seems so relaxed about taxing meat.”
However, in an interview with Sky News, Coutinho referred to it as a “light moment” in the speech, but did not answer whether she believed that Labour would introduce a tax on meat.
The Policies being put forward…
Emerging from the conference are policies which have similarly made a splash on the UK’s front pages. Sunak has announced a plan to scrap A-levels and replace them with a new qualification called the Advanced British Standard (ABS). He claims the move will cultivate the “best education system in the western world”.
In terms of industrial news, Sunak announced that the Birmingham-to-Manchester element of HS2 would be scrapped. He announced that instead the government will invest £36bn into other transport schemes, such as the Charles Line – formerly known as the Northern Powerhouse Rail. The objectives of the project will be to connect the north-west of England with the north-east.
In relation to health policies, Sunak announced plans to raise the minimum legal age for buying cigarettes. The prime minister stated that he plans to raise this age by one year, every year.
None of the policies above have been introduced to parliament as legislation.