Conservative Party Conference 2020

Saturday 3rd October, 11.00 – 12.00

Fuelling the future:

Hydrogen’s role in supporting the low-carbon economy

Hydrogen has huge potential as a low-carbon fuel of the future, as explored in Policy Exchange’s 2018 paper, Fuelling the Future. Investment in hydrogen could be instrumental in kick starting a Green Recovery and in Levelling Up industrial areas of the UK. This panel will discuss the potential for hydrogen in the UK economy, including what steps the Government should take now to ensure that the UK captures the maximum benefits of this emerging low-carbon fuel.

Saturday 3rd October, 12.15 – 13.15

What do we want from the Civil Service?

Whitehall reform is obviously high on the political agenda but it is important to return to first principles and ask: what sort of Civil Service do we want? This panel will discuss issues of reform such as the ethos, accountability and neutrality of the Civil Service.

Saturday 3rd October, 14.30 – 15.30

Tech for Growth:

Upscaling the UK’s Digital and Data Infrastructure for a post-pandemic world

One of the many challenges facing the UK after COVID is how to invest in the future of Digital and Data innovation. This panel will discuss topics such as the recently launched National Data Strategy, the Government’s commitment to UK coverage of gigabit-capable broadband, and how digital infrastructure can drive productivity and create jobs.


Saturday 3rd October, 16.00 – 17.00

Is Academic Freedom at risk?

Britain’s universities are world-leading. Yet there is growing concern that academic freedom in these institutions is being undermined in a way that departs from the liberal traditions and democratic norms of British society. This panel will discuss concerns that strongly held political attitudes could be restricting the freedom of those who disagree to research and teach on contested subjects, and what might be done.

Historically, the red wall formed the backbone of Labour’s vote in the Midlands and the North of England but, during the 2019 general election, it dramatically turned Conservative for the first time in living memory, redrawing the electoral map in the process. ‘Broken Heartlands’ explores this fundamental upheaval of the British political landscape.


Speakers Include: 
  • Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities
  • Sebastian Payne, Whitehall Editor, Financial Times
Sunday 4th October 10.00 – 11.15

Patchwork Quilt or Powerhouse?

How to make the NHS a global leader in clinical trials

The benefits of the NHS as a single-payer system are often held up as a source of national pride. Yet when it comes to hosting clinical trials, the complexities of navigating the NHS make it less attractive compared to international counterparts. The result is that people in the UK living with a range of conditions – from dementia to rare diseases – are sometimes missing out on accessing the most innovative medicines.


Sunday 4th October, 15.00 – 16.00

Making the Jobs-market work:

Labour market lessons from the past

The remarkable strength of the UK labour market has been labelled a ‘jobs miracle.’ When comparable European economies were facing an exodus of jobless young people, the UK enjoyed record low unemployment figures, particularly in the last few years. Today, as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme comes to an end, and with an uncertain economic outlook, the country faces potentially daunting challenges last faced the 1980s, when at the height of the crisis unemployment passed three million.



Monday 5th October, 09.00 – 10.00

The Best and the Rest:

Is the cognitive meritocracy driving us apart?

In recent decades how we value work and workers has become deeply biased towards academic standards. Cognitive ability has become the gold standard of human esteem. As recently as the 1970s most people left school without qualifications, but now 40 per cent of all jobs are graduate-only. In this central struggle for status and dignity in the twenty-first century education will be at the forefront of reshaping societies priorities.

Monday 5th October, 10.30 – 11.15

What are the lessons from COVID for the Government’s hospital building programme?

Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, in conversation with Dean Godson, Director of Policy Exchange


Monday 5th October, 13.00 – 14.00

The Integrated Review:

What is Britain’s place in the world?

Brexit presents an opportunity to reconsider Britain’s place in the world. The Integrated Review is the largest review of the UK’s foreign, defence, security and development policy since the end of the Cold War. This panel will discuss some of the most important issues the review is currently considering, including what the international strategic opportunities and challenges facing the UK are.

Monday 5th October, 14.15 – 15:15

Reform or Revolution:

How should the Union change to survive?

The Union of the four nations of the United Kingdom has proved both successful and durable as an arrangement of state, but in the past two decades the Union has faced significant challenges and changes. This is a moment of opportunity to strengthen the Union through investment, devolution, and more engaged partnerships between the different communities. This panel will discuss the existential threats facing the Union, the challenges of Brexit and the third decade of devolution.


Monday 5th October, 15.30 – 16.30

Human Rights Law and Parliamentary Democracy:

An Anglo-Australian conversation

The Human Rights Act came into force 20yrs ago. It is widely thought to have had a significant impact on UK constitutional law and practice, including judicial culture more generally. The Government is reportedly soon to initiate a review of the Act, which may culminate in its amendment or repeal. Policy Exchange is pleased to host a conversation between Hon George Brandis QC, former Attorney General of Australia, and Rt Hon Geoffrey Cox QC MP, former Attorney General of England and Wales.


Monday 5th October, 17.00 – 18.00

Challenging History:

Are attempts to confront the past explanation or erasure?

Policy Exchange recently launched the History Matters Project, as history became the latest front in a new culture war. Although starting on the political fringes, this conflict has increasingly affected mainstream institutions, many of which have rushed to distance themselves from aspects of their past which have suddenly and unexpectedly been reconstrued as controversial. This panel will discuss what the Government can and ought to do in the face of this new challenge.


Speakers Include: 
  • Ike Ijeh, 
Tuesday 6th October, 09.00 – 10.00

Is Thatcherism over?

Boris Johnson won the biggest Conservative majority since Thatcher’s in 1987 – propelled to office by former safe Labour seats. Elected on a manifesto promising to level up, increasing spending on public services, and vowing no return to austerity. Far from the ‘Singapore-on-Thames’ caricature of Brexit, subsidies are now a key sticking point in the negotiations. The spirit of the Iron Lady is still evoked by some Conservatives, but has the substance of Thatcherism been well and truly abandoned?

Tuesday 6th October, 10.30 – 11.30

Building back better:

Quality and quantity in house building after Covid-19

Currently the case for reform to the housing and planning system is high on the agenda, with Government’s stated ambition to provide quality and quantity. This panel will discuss the prospect for reform of housing policy as we recover from this crisis. Looking at issues such as the potential decline of commuting, the impact of that on issues around density and high streets, and the role of the planning system in delivering on the long-term interests of citizens.

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