Blackpool splits in two as Tory conference comes to Winter Gardens while protesters chant outside

As the Conservative Party Spring Conference rolled into Blackpool, the resort was split into two distinct worlds: the politicians in power and their supporters, and the groups who passionately oppose them.

By Wes Holmes
Friday, 18th March 2022, 6:55 pm

Trade unionists, anti-fracking campaigners, NHS supporters and other activists gathered in St John’s Square as Rishi Sunak, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Grant Shapps, Sajid Javid, Michael Gove and other Tory front-benchers made their way to the Winter Gardens this morning to talk about transport, levelling-up, and their preparations for the next general election.

Protesters sang songs and Ian Hodson, president of the Baker’s Union, gave a passionate speech against austerity in the face of ever-rising food, energy and fuel costs - resulting in cheers from the small crowd.

Protesters outside the Winter Gardens as the Conservative Party Conference arrives in Blackpool. Photo: Kelvin Stuttard

He said: “Look at the poverty that people have to endure and consider this. Because what we face is tax increases of people at work, massive increases in fuel prices, which is going to drive even more households to use food banks.

"Last year we conducted a survey of our members of people who worked in the food industry that kept this nation fed, essential workers they called them, people who coninued to work during the Covid-19 crisis to make sure we had food at the table. It was quite clear about the differences and inequalities in our society. 40 per cent of people who kept this nation fed found themselves relying on a charity of goodwill or on friends to put food on their table. 35 per cent told us they did without food so other members of their family could eat. 7.5 per cent of those people had to use food banks. These are the policies that this Tory government has brought in.”

Lynn Goodwin, chairman of the Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre Trades Union Council said: “Britain needs a pay rise. Wages are standing still. They’re sitll lower in real terms than they were in 2008, just after the crash. This is the longest period of standstill wages in 200 years. Bills are rising, often dramatically. Soaring energy prices and higher food prices are hitting family budgets hard.”

Inside the Winter Gardens however, past multiple layers of security, the pavilion was flooded with smartly-dressed men in suits, smartly-dressed women in sensible heels, going about as if in another world to the protesters outside. Cups of tea and coffee, bite-sized sandwiches and slabs of cake were provided. A few representatives from local organisations – VisitBlackpool, Blackpool Pride of Place, and Blackpool and the Fylde College – were there, making a case for the resort. A different sort of passion could be seen here, providing a heartening sense of optimism. Mandy Tythe-McCallum, of VisitBlackpool tourism services, said: “The delegates a here for a few nights; they spend while they’re here, they visit local restaurants, local bars, they stay in local accommodation. The event is worth a fair bit to Blackpool, to the tune of £2.5m. It’s showcasing Blackpool as a serious business destination.”

Armed police outside the Winter Gardens as the Conservative Party Conference arrives in Blackpool. Photo: Kelvin Stuttard

Alan Cavill, director of communications and regeneration, added: “I think it’s a real watershed for us in the sense that it’s a major conference returning to the town. We haven’t had a party conference here since 2007, an this signifies a return not just for party conferences, but for many other associations. Whether that’s trade unions or other organisations, it makes a real difference.”

These positive sentiments were echoed by Secretary of State for Levelling Up Michael Gove upon his arrival on Albert Road, where he met a woman called Christina, who told him of the troubles she faced dealing with rogue landlords until My Blackpool Home stepped in to help her.

“The only property that would accept me was run by a rogue landlord,” she said. “It was damp, they didn’t answer phonecalls, they’ve got their own meters so they set their own tariffs. Since I moved to this house my bills have effectively halved, these people actually listen to me. They have got me these standards at an affordable price. I feel like they have saved my life.”

Following the meeting, Gove said: “Blackpool has suffered as a result of neglect for years and Blackpool is an amazing place, but if you look at the quality of housing, if you look at the health outcomes that people have, if you look at the quality of education, the people of Blackpool haven’t had the opportunities they deserve. So we’re going to invest in Blackpool and work with the council in order to improve housing, to improve health, and to improve schools and skills.

"We’re already seeing significant investment in the very heart of Blackpool. I wa shere with the Prime Minister just last month and we were looking at a new hotel and housing development bringing jobs in, but we need to go further.”

He added that he hoped the full levelling-up plans would be implemented in Blackpool by 2030, with significant steps being made in the next two years.

Arif Rajpura, the director of public health for Blackpool, said: “Housing is one of the most important public health issues for Blackpool. If we improve the housing we have in Blackpool, it will possibly have a significant impact on the health of the population.”

The conference continues tomorrow (Saturday March 19), with visits from Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Priti Patel, and Liz Truss.

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