IT’S one of those strange annual spaces where their guard is down. The carnival grotesque that is the Conservative Party Conference in the middle of the harshest attacks on social welfare in living memory was an orgy of self-congratulation, back-slapping and feel-good factor frolics.

As Thérèse Coffey was filmed singing “Time of My Life” at conference karaoke time she was responsible for the end of the £20-a-week ­Universal Credit uplift, the biggest overnight welfare cut since the Second World War. Crass and callous doesn’t cut it. Next up was Dominic Raab not knowing what misogyny is – or Alister Jack not knowing what the Good Friday Agreement (or even “a majority” is) – or MP Dehenna Davidson revelling in her “Tory Scum” status with her own stickers – sort of “Nobody Likes Us We Don’t Care” merch for Conservatives.

It’s difficult to know how to respond to this cocktail of incompetence and cruelty, other than to reflect that the social experiment of drawing the leadership to run a country from a tiny handful of English private schools hasn’t worked very well. Let us at least settle on a ­character study of some of the specimens from the Freak Show.

Boris Johnson’s performative act, still ­stubbornly referred to as a “speech”, was ­described generously by some as “policy light” – in truth it was more just a collection of words strung together around a series of weird memes based on a meaningless slogan. The Tories are now like pigs shitting in their own mud, then squealing with joy as the more they shit the muddier it gets.

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A series of critical problems ­created specifically by the Brexit fiasco are now being “overcome” by the very people who ­created them. So the army is brought in to solve any number of entirely self-inflicted problems. They are then gloried in – and In Scotland’s case – used to try and humiliate the Scottish Government, despite the fact they are plainly a sign of a dysfunctional government and a failed state, rather than the sign of a great nation ­re-born.

All that came out of Manchester was vague talk of levelling up. As I’ve said before “trickle-down economics” or “levelling up” is all pish. The “levelling up” language is less than shallow; less than one dimensional; and less than ­illusory. It is not “policy light” it is “policy void”.

At the end of Johnson’s incoherent ramblings he spluttered out: “a levelling up premium of £3000 to send the best maths and science ­teachers to the places they need the most”. This means nothing and nobody really cares. It’s ­almost the point of it that it means nothing and the fact that nobody cares is itself an expression of power. The Daily Express dutifully produced a rousing front cover to celebrate the Prime Minister’s finest hour, or something.

The mass disinformation is only successful with a pliant media.

In his conference speech Boris blundered along with his usual blast of obscure Greek references, insult and dad joke-style wordplay. Dishing up some saucy classics he commented that when he was very ill with Covid, NHS ­nurses “pulled my chestnuts out of the Tartarean pit”. Tartarus was (apparently) the underworld abyss, beneath even Hades.

He quoted Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard – for no obvious ­reason but a sort of strange literary flex – ­before ­tripping out lines about Jeremy Corbyn, lefty-lawyers, the culture wars and gags about “Build Back Beaver” and “Build Back Burger”.

It was all a familiar routine, and like his ­colleagues appeared immune to the reality of the ­social chaos they have created throughout the country they claim to rule. Their ­infliction of mass poverty and their presiding of the ­breakdown of supply chains is something they are blissfully ignorant of. Nor are this weeks ­revelations of the Pandora Papers anything to trouble the Tory regime.

As Peter Oborne observes: “Johnson’s ­Conservative Party essentially belongs to the ­super-rich. The billionaires. Those with ­privileged access to the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. To the large, and in many cases insalubrious, cast of men and ­women with walk-on appearances in the ­Pandora papers scandal. This class of ­Conservatives does not seem to see the British state – as Tories have historically claimed to do – as something to which you dedicate a life of service. They seem to see it rather differently: as something to be plundered and used for self-enrichment.

“Certainly Johnson supports levelling up. He wants to level up the billionaires. They’ve grown richer than ever before under his premiership. This may help explain why Tory donors are so much more likely to win Covid contracts than others. Access, it seems, helps win contracts, and access can come in return for a fat donation.”

It’s tempting to see all of this is as continuous. It’s tempting to see it all in just one long line of sleaze. But as Oborne points out the difference now is that – certainly for the Conservatives – there is no mass membership. The cash must come from other sources now.

In this sense the demise of the political realm is in a downwards cycle. It is circling the drain.

IT’S not true that the conference was entirely policy free. It wasn’t all laughs and gaffs. Among all the partying the Home Secretary was stripping away your right to protest and destroying a very basic tenet of democracy.

The sweeping new powers are called “criminal disruption prevention ­orders”. A ­Conservative Party source told the BBC that the orders would “give the courts the power to ­prevent an individual with a history of ­disruption or where there is intelligence ­suggesting they are likely to commit a criminal offence from ­attending particular protests”. They are “inspired” by Patel’s hatred of climate change protestors and are built on previous ­regressive legislation from earlier this year.

They are essentially “pre-crimes” – dystopian sci-fi now mingling happily on your timeline and your newsfeed.

As Ian Dunn notes: “Patel didn’t pluck this idea from nowhere. It was first suggested in July 2019 by the Metropolitan Police, on behalf of the National Police Chiefs Council, when they presented 19 ideas to make it easier to police protests. At the time, they were called ‘protest banning orders’, but that was too on-the-nose. It gave the game away. That’s why the concept has now been repackaged under the euphemistic ‘criminal disruption prevention orders’.”

Dunn observes: “Several senior police ­officers also rejected the idea. One said that it would ‘unnecessarily curtail people’s democratic right to protest’. Another warned that it would ­constitute ‘a massive civil liberty infringement’. A third said that ‘the proposal is a severe restriction on a person’s rights to protest’.”

There was a moral queasiness in police ­circles at the way it seemed to take a legal ­provision ­applied to violent football fans and apply it to peaceful protestors. Football ­banning ­orders were parliament’s response to extreme, ­organised disorder in football grounds. Applying them in this scenario – to ­climate change ­activists inconveniencing passers-by – takes a draconian measure which can be ­justified by the severity of the situation it ­addresses and then imposes it on one which does not.

One senior police officer decided that of all 19 proposals it was “the hardest of all the asks”. When appraising it in September 2020, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services reached the same ­conclusion. “A banning order would completely remove an individual’s right to attend a ­protest,” it said. “It is difficult to envisage a case where less intrusive measures could not be taken to ­address the risk that an individual poses.”

As Priti Patel flirted with conference fascism the rumours were that Laura Kuenssberg – the BBC’s best paid flunky – was doing karaoke with Michael Gove. But did that happen? The story emerged from the Twitter feed of Dominic Penna, a sort of premature Telegraph offspring:

“Kuenssberg and Michael Gove had a dance-off rap battle as one Tory MP sang Ice Ice Baby at karaoke last night.

“Kuenssberg’s BBC colleague Lewis Goodall then gave Dancing Queen his best shot – after quipping: ‘Have we got any Tory scum in the audience?’”

The story did the rounds before being deleted and vehemently denied by the BBC News Press Team Twitter account.

Penna would later tweet a (sort of/not really) apology: “Party conferences pass in a blur. Contrary to my report from INHouse karaoke, Laura Kuenssberg did not have a dance-off and rap battle with Cabinet minister Michael Gove.

“The BBC Political Editor was there, and chatting to people on the edge of the dance floor, with hundreds of other people. But no shapes were thrown with disco-loving Govey.”

But the idea that the BBC’s most senior news journalist would have been drinking and ­partying with the politicians she’s supposed to be reporting on wasn’t denied, just the ­karaoke bit. This is where we are. We are in the grip of some of the most authoritarian government ­legislation we’ve ever experienced (and we’ve experienced a lot) and the coverage and ­scrutiny is lamentable.

As the excellent Mic Wright (Broken ­Bottle Boy on SubStack) notes: “The rap battle ­detail may be untrue but the sense of no barrier ­existing between the reporters who purport to tell us the truth about politicians and the politicians they analyse is not. The rap battle rumour reveals once again that The Daily Telegraph is a fanzine squatting in the hollowed-out corpse of a 166-year-old newspaper brand, but it also shows us how hacks are simultaneously comfortable and ashamed about how they make the sausage and galivant with the pigs.

“Of course, political reporters need to talk to politicians but they don’t have to socialise with them or treat them as friends. Unless, of course, they have their eye on future jobs within government or the sprawling tentacled mass of think tanks that produce most policy and ­provide a job creation scheme for some of the most odious people in Britain (if not the world).”

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AND finally we turn to Alister Jack, a man who looks permanently disappointed. Last week the unfortunate Jack was criticised for “an embarrassing lack of political awareness” and accused of rewriting the Good Friday Agreement after incorrectly suggesting a border poll on Irish reunification could only take place if 60% of people on the island wanted it, as he attempted to set down new conditions for a second independence referendum.

Jack said in August that Whitehall would grant another ballot on the Union if polls consistently showed that 60% of voters supported one. He unexpectedly added further prerequisites last week, ruling out another referendum for at least 25 years, which he deemed to be a “generation”.

Jack had previously suggested that a generation could be “25 or 40 years”. But under the terms of the Good Friday agreement, any possible second border poll in Northern Ireland should be at least seven years after the first. The document says the Northern Ireland secretary can call a border poll “if at any time it appears likely to him that a majority of those voting would express a wish that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the UK and form part of a united Ireland”.

Having pegged our referendum to the terms of the Good Friday Agreement is a serious mistake from a man so out of his depth, and for whom every utterance is a catastrophic blunder of constitutional proportions. Manchester was a live advert for constitutional change – as the Tory Freak show and their media carnival partied like it was the End of Days. Let’s hope it is.