The Conservative party leadership hustings event came at the end of a heavy day of work. Most of the day was spent photographing a conference at the University of South Wales in Treforest. Late afternoon saw me concentrate on a separate line of business from the home office, with little break before heading off to point lenses at the UK’s next prime minister.
Thick rush-hour traffic finally edged me closer to the venue’s access road. It was manned by police who told me a protest was blocking the main entrance and car park, so I’d need to park elsewhere and walk back. At the entrance were loud protesters with messages for conservative party members and the leadership contenders themselves. The branding of climate activists Extinction Rebellion was prominent, drumming and whistles were loud. One much-photographed protester, always reliably original in appearance at every protest, was seemingly dressed as leadership favourite Liz Truss herself.
This was always going to be an event drawing such protests and underlining stark political divisions. The leadership hustings roadshow travels the length and breadth of the UK in just a few weeks, with similar protests a regular theme. A day or two later a group of protesters in Eastbourne went one better than these in Cardiff, gaining admission to the event, presumably under the cover of being legitimate Conservative party members, before disrupting the event while Liz Truss was speaking, then being ejected from the building.
I photographed the same event back in July 2019, when it was contested between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, and found it interesting to photograph from a social perspective. In much the same way that Brexit Party events was interesting to photograph from a social perspective. In this case the interest comes from the novelty of seeing such open tory pride and Conservative party flag-waving in Cardiff, all constituencies of which are represented in Westminster by Labour MPs, while the Welsh Assembly government is also governed by Labour. Significant too is the guarded venue of the All Nations Centre, on a fringe of the city, whereas the Labour party leadership hustings in early 2020 was held at City Hall, in the city centre. But clearly the blue faction exists. There was also the attraction of these pictures having guaranteed value of some small measure. No real exclusivity, as these events are happening in many places across the UK during these weeks. But even so, images of prime ministers can have a decent lifespan, earning a steady drip of small sales well into the future. Although images of the losing leadership contender, in 2019 Jeremy Hunt, sell less well.
I was surprised that controversy over the Conservative deputy chief whip Chris Pincher led to Johnson’s demise as prime minister. It seemed like yet another thing Johnson and his party would try to dismiss and move away from as quickly as possible. But perhaps it was the straw that broke the camel’s back, one too many for party members to stomach. It was the reaction of his party and particularly the resignations of chancellor Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javed that finally got the snowball rolling, or the ‘herd moving,’ to use Johnson’s own language.
So here we were again in the summer of 2022, at another leadership hustings, this time contested by Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss. Truss is widely tipped to win the thing, and seems more naturally aligned with familiar recent Conservative prime ministers: Johnson in policies and ideologies, and Theresa May in stiff presentation. Though many political commentators have observed how Truss appears to emulate Margaret Thatcher in style.
After obtaining media accreditation and undergoing the necessary security checks, I hovered outside briefly, to the soundtrack of relentless Extinction Rebellion drums, whistles and shouts at the gate. A queue formed outside the building. I observed the arrival of party members and the leader of the Welsh Conservatives, Andrew RT Davies. I spied a visual pun, in the form of a Conservative party member eating a pork pie. Pork pie is cockney rhyming slang for lie. Left-leaning editorial titles may have appreciated the gag of Conservative party members swallowing pork pies at the leadership hustings. The image isn’t perfectly executed, the pork pie perhaps not quite obvious enough, but whatever. Unlike a number of the photographers milling about, I decided not to stay there for the arrivals and went back inside.
Before the first speakers arrived on stage there was a video showing highlights of recent political history. Warm cheers and chuckles from the crowd reflected how Boris Johnson is still highly regarded by many members. Then came the parade of speakers, some explicitly supporting one or other of the candidates, some objective. Then came the headliners: Sunak first, then Truss. On first appearance, they walked down an aisle, climbed a small set of steps and spoke from a stage to the crowd all around them – a different stage set-up to 2019’s more conventional effort.
They offered a sense of themselves, their histories, personalities, values and policies. After that would be a sit-down interview with a television presenter, who would also manage questions from the crowd. I didn’t stay for that. It was approaching 8.30pm by the time they’d both finished their first speeches and I was flagging. I had taken enough pictures of and there was still stacks of work to do in sifting, editing, organising and submitting.
Maybe I’ll be back there again at roughly the same time in 2025. Maybe not.
All images are the copyright of Mark Hawkins / Composed Images. Strictly no unauthorised use allowed. Images can be purchased via Alamy and Shutterstock, or by contacting me directly.
This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.