The top choice amongst bookies for the next leader of the Conservative party in Manchester, England, launched a two-pronged attack at the party’s yearly conference.
Kemi Badenoch publicly prioritized addressing Tory grassroots members at the Manchester event, while also dedicating time privately to meeting with business representatives from major UK companies.
The most revealing information came from the public statements of the business and trade secretary, not from her behind-the-scenes persuasion of well-compensated lobbyists and executives.
As rumors ran wild that the Manchester event could possibly be the final opportunity for aspiring leaders to gain support from party members before a potential leadership competition, all attention was focused on the frontrunner of the unofficial race.
Badenoch certainly lived up to expectations, delivering passionate and determined performances on the conference stage and engaging with large crowds at fringe meetings.
Those who doubt the possibility of a future competition should consider a year’s worth of surveys indicating a probable Labour triumph, and pay attention to the maneuvering of Cabinet members.
During an event hosted by the Spectator magazine on Tuesday, Badenoch expressed the need for the party to stop wasting time and prioritize winning the upcoming election. However, there are those in Westminster who believe she is already preparing alternative strategies in case of a potential Conservative loss.
If this is the case, it would mark her second attempt at the highest position, as she previously campaigned for leadership in 2022. She placed fourth and gained recognition within the party, despite being relatively unknown prior.
During her primary conference address, Badenoch strongly criticized efforts by liberals to once again make race an issue in society. She also spoke out against those who oppose Brexit and believe that the EU is the solution to all problems.
Although she briefly mentioned her accomplishments in business and trade, Badenoch appeared much more enthusiastic while discussing the cultural conflicts that brought her into the spotlight within the party. These issues also fall under her responsibilities as both a minister for equalities and in her other role.
According to a recent poll by ConservativeHome, she is currently the most favored Cabinet minister among members of the Conservative Party.
The audience erupted in enthusiastic clapping when the Labour Party was referred to as “submitting to intolerance” and when the Scottish National Party was accused of allowing “convicted rapists to pose as women in order to be placed in a women’s prison.”
Her assistants must have been extremely pleased when they woke up on Tuesday morning and saw that the Daily Mail had dedicated its entire front page to her statement that “Britain is the top country in the world for Black individuals.”
Down to business
Apart from the primary platform, Badenoch also spent time attempting to attract the private sector during the conference’s yearly Business Day.
The event, which cost £3,000 per ticket, included a lunch with the prime minister and speeches from Badenoch, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, and Sunak’s business advisor, Franck Petitgas.
The current administration under Sunak has actively worked towards rebuilding ties with UK companies in the past year, as they felt neglected during Boris Johnson’s time as PM.
Badenoch is instrumental in driving this effort, as her supporters assert that she has significantly improved the Department’s involvement with the private sector over the course of this year.
At the Business Day event, a lobbyist remarked that Badenoch was “very impressive and spoke eloquently,” as she and Hunt attempted to explain the larger economic story of this administration.
The duo proposed a strategy to utilize pension fund money in ventures with greater potential for growth in sectors where Britain has inherent strengths, such as the pharmaceutical and technology industries.
After three hours, the lobbyist finally understood the new industrial strategy.
Despite Badenoch’s performance at the Business Day, it failed to impress everyone.
Another person who was present stated that there was a lack of energy during her speech.
A few individuals expressed gratitude for the trade agreements, however, there was no applause or any other reaction.
Living life in the future
A minister who is in close proximity to Badenoch expressed disapproval to POLITICO, stating that the media is analyzing all of her actions with the assumption of a potential bid for leadership.
Although some members of the media may tend to exaggerate and overlook her policy efforts behind the scenes, it is hard to deny that Badenoch is actively laying the foundation for a potential leadership opportunity.
Two conservative Members of Parliament informed POLITICO that Badenoch had started organizing dinners with donors for their party. The Sunday Times also revealed that she has been trying to win over MPs from the more conservative wing of the party and even hosted a party highlighting the advantages of Brexit in her office at the House of Commons.
At the Spectator event, a devoted follower pleaded with Badenoch to commit to participating in the upcoming leadership competition. However, she skillfully avoided making any promises and instead praised Sunak.
During the event, another supporter chimed in, saying “We adore you, Kemi.”
Badenoch maintains strong ties to the Spectator, her former employer, which is highly influential among the Tory grassroots. One employee told POLITICO she is in constant contact with its editor, Fraser Nelson.
She also gave speeches at social events this week for the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) and Centre for Policy Studies – two organizations that promote free market ideas. These organizations were supported by Liz Truss before she ran for leadership in 2022.
“It is crucial for Conservatives, above all, to emphasize that government is not the solution to all problems – simply increasing spending is not the solution,” stated Badenoch at the IEA reception.
She definitely did not hinder her chances for leadership this week and even revealed her unexpected attempt to become the Tory leader last year. She stated that her motivation was to demonstrate that Conservatives should not be limited by rules and traditions.
She expressed that the overwhelming positivity has alleviated her reservations about voicing her thoughts.
“I am willing to face criticism from the media and admit my desire for leadership, if that’s what it takes.”
Reporting was provided by Esther Webber.