Nick Ferrari makes bet with Rishi Sunak over Rwanda deportations
The air is thick with gilets and guffaws. Police form a stoic line as crowds jostle for entry, tapping at their phones to find proof of ticket purchase. Stewards steer people in the right direction as passersby look bemused.
I am, of course, at the final Tory party hustings in Wembley Arena of all places, in which Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss will pitch themselves to members one last time, in the hope of securing enough votes to get their hands on the keys to Number 10 and the fate of the country.
With 6,000 attendees, the event is reportedly the largest gathering of Tories in 40 years. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, though, so tutting at those entering the venue are also a lot of protestors - climate change lobbyists, EU enthusiasts, and of course Steve Bray.
The protestors aren't enough to deter an eager bunch of Tories and those doomed to report on them though, so I get through the gate with ease, head down, trying to give as much "I'm not a Tory I'm just media" energy as possible and find the press queue.
The queue is long and lacks organisation. I pass the time by people watching and hear a man lamenting that he accidentally paid twice for the event. A quick Google confirms the ticket cost £5. A tight Tory. How very prosaic.
Evidencing its lack of organisation, the queue is suddenly split in two in a desperate attempt to get us in faster. But inside is no better and with the hustings starting in three minutes, there is chaos in the air and people in the reception area try and find directions to their correct stands. "Are you ready for Rishi," a beaming posh man brays at me while thrusting handfuls of merchandise in my face. "No, sorry. Do you know where the press stands are?" I reply.
He shrugs and walks off to shower another punter with tote bags and posters.
No help at all. Margaret Thatcher was right. There really is no such thing as society.
The way Tories organise a conference, I reflect, is no better than how they run the country.
But, through perseverance and entrepreneurial capitalist spirit, or something like that, I find my way inside and take my seat and look around at my compatriots.
Reader, I have the ick. The crowd are positively frothing at the mouth at their leaders. Truss's team have sat in a specific way so they spell out "LT" from a bird's eye perspective. The thought of the planning that must have gone into the inconsequential stunt gives me second-hand embarrassment. And when they start chanting "LIZ, LIZ, LIZ, LIZ," I have to do breathing exercises.
\u201cTeam Liz has formed a giant \u2018LT\u2019 behind the stage in white t-shirts reading \u201cLT=Low Tax\u201d\u201d
Then it is time for Truss and Sunak to take to the stage. They are each introduced by one of their supporters (Truss got Iain Duncan Smith and Sunak got Michael Gove), show a short video promoting them, make a pitch and then face separate interviews with LBC's Nick Ferrari before taking questions from the audience.
Truss, who cements her hun status by striding out to Taylor Swift's Change, uses her time to slag off London mayor Sadiq Khan who is from Tooting, South London before saying Labour have too many North London leaders. She throws cheap red meat at her supporters by saying trans women aren't women. "There's too much left wing identity politics," she declares.
The Tories go wild.
\u201cAudience member stands up and says \u201cWe should not be telling our children that a trans woman is a woman,\u201d to loud applause.\n\nAsked if a trans woman is a woman, Liz Truss says \u201cno,\u201d to equally loud applause.\u201d
Sunak, whose bizarre choice of song is The Weeknd's Blinding Lights, a song about drink driving, reveals that his father was a GP and his mother ran a local chemist, for the first time (ahem) and promises to fight inflation. I've been sat down for 90 minutes and I could almost mouth along to the speeches, knowing them so well from previous hustings. I'm bored.
It is at that point that my BeReal notification goes off. The momentary dopamine is sweet, but not enough to recharge my attention, so I wander off into the reception area, leaving Sunak's pledges ringing in my ears. A drink might perk me up, I think, and head to the bar.
The price list is a sucker punch to the stomach, and a sign of things to come in Tory Britain with its high inflation and higher political apathy.
So I ask for tap water, then scurry away, nervous I've outed myself as an intruder.
Then I notice who sponsors the venue. OVO energy. Is this the best look during an energy crisis? It is certainly unfortunate and I've had enough. It is time to leave, so leave I do, bursting out of the Tory bubble and into the night. Hungry, because by the way, the Tories scheduled the event during peak dinner time hours and didn't provide food. The swines.
But I digress. The Tories and I file down the road to the tube station, a procession of chinos murmuring away about the event.
I get onto the tube which has the atmosphere of concertgoers returning home after seeing their favourite band. But instead of drunks swaying against the carriage doors and singing their favourite songs from the set, the Tories pick at their entry wristbands and compare Sunak and Truss's sets. "Rishi did a lot better than the last time I saw him," one declared. "His economic policies are nonsense," a dissident snipes.
The talk turns to the postal worker strike. "They've done it on purpose to stop us sending our postal votes in on time," one conspires.
"I don't know about that," a voice of reason replies.
A few get off; the debate is over. And with the tube crowd slowly replaced with people who have spent their evenings at work, bars and restaurants, the lucky things, so is my time in the Tory trenches.
"See you at Birmingham, mate," a final Tory booms back at a friend, as he steps off the tube. That's where the Conservatives will have their annual conference next month, when the new leader and therefore PM will be firmly in office with the results announced on 5th September.
All bands have dedicated groupies who follow them at every leg of their tour. It seems the Tories are no different.
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