Perhaps it's appropriate that the Conservative Party is meeting in an old railway station here in Manchester: its taking a twin-track approach, and preparing to go down both tracks like a steam train.

But we don't know yet which of the trains will leave the station first.

OK, it’s a Laboured metaphor (and pardon that party political pun), but this Conservative party is weeks away from two huge events – Brexit, and a general election in which, according to some in the party, its own existence is on the line. And it’s aiming to win both on its own terms.

Each will influence the other. Indeed they already are. But right now, we don’t know which will come first – Brexit or the election.

Last Thursday, John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons, confirmed to MPs that "under the existing legislative framework" it was now too late to hold a general election before 31 October, the current Brexit deadline. That appears to put the election after Britain's departure from the EU.

Unless, of course, there is another delay to the Brexit date. But that requires a British Prime Minister requesting such an extension from the European Council. That is something Boris Johnson has frequently and strongly declared he will not do.

Boris Johnson insists Britain will leave EU on 31 October with or without a deal

Instead he is talking about getting a deal from the EU that will enable the country to leave by 31 October. Mr Johnson believes it is possible to have an arrangement that protects the Good Friday Agreement, ensures peace in Ireland, frictionless trade in Ireland north and south, avoids border infrastructure, allows Ireland to fully participate in the EU single market and allows the whole of the UK to leave the EU together at the end of October.

He admits it will be difficult to do, but insists he is going to get on and do it.

But as we know, trying to solve the Backstop puzzle to everyone's satisfaction is like twisting an infernal political Rubik's Cube – every time you think you have it, at least one square of the wrong colour ends up where it shouldn't (usually orange or green ones, but sometimes red, white and blue ones as well).

Prominent Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg has repeated to the conference what he has been saying around Westminster for the past few weeks, that if the DUP are happy with any deal, then most Conservatives, even the 21 that Boris Johnson kicked out of the parliamentary party, will sign up to it, as would a number of opposition (read Labour) leave supporters.

Leading Tory back-bencher Jacob Ress Mogg

But if they don't, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab repeated the "nasty coup" line about leaving the EU on 31 October "no ifs, no buts", and getting applauded for it from conference delegates who seem quite keen on the idea.

So how do those views mesh in with the general election? If there is a deal that gains parliamentary support and allows Britain to have formally left the EU by 31 October (albeit with a two-year transition period), then the Tories will go into the election in a confident mood, particularly when it comes to dealing with the challenge of the Brexit Party.

Nor will Mr Johnson entertain the idea of any sort of electoral pact with the Brexit Party

The Brexit Party’s chairman, Richard Tice, told me last week the 31 October date was dead, Britain won’t leave the EU by then, and an election needs to be held in November.

If that’s the case, then it means Boris Johnson will have failed in his "do or die" Brexit mission, and a political death at the hands of Nigel Farage probably awaits.

That’s why he is so adamant he will not look for an extension from Brussels to the Article 50 deadline. Nor will he entertain the idea of any sort of electoral pact with the Brexit Party, as Mr Tice has suggested (he wants a "leave alliance" to win a big majority, and then push through what he calls a "clean break Brexit" - that is to say, a no-deal Brexit).

Tories under threat at polls from Nigel Farage's Brexit Party

No, the Conservatives want to fight the election on their own terms, and as far as this conference is concerned, that means getting past Brexit and concentrating on selling the parties big spending plans to an electorate - that is sick of hearing about Brexit, but may not be sure what the parties are offering. Particularly the Conservative Party, which the main opposition Labour Party has spent the last several years painting as the 'Austerity Party’.

Britain has a big housing shortage, and like in Ireland it is a big political issue.  

And while it’s true that its big spending cuts have hurt, and have probably driven some to vote for Brexit out of despair or anger, it is also true that it won a healthy majority on the back of George Osborne’s austerity budgeting in 2015.

So now the strategy is to talk about spending: spending on health, education and policing. And on house building. There is an awful lot of activity at this conference related to house building - mostly by the private sector. Britain has a big housing shortage, and like in Ireland it is a big political issue.    

Where does the money for all this spending come from? Some of it is fiscal space created by the austerity budgeting of previous years (assuming it is not eaten up in emergency measures needed to deal with a Brexit that goes badly wrong). But of course, the "savings" from not paying into the EU budget also figure. These are not very big, and won’t go very far, and there is never any mention of the negative effects of the UK not being in EU spending programmes. But it sounds good, and at election time that’s what counts.

Strategy at the party conference is to talk out about spending

So stand by for lots of talk about more money for the NHS, police recruits, schools and colleges - why there is even money for the railways! And stand by for not much talk about Brexit. Because in order to make space for the messages about the spending plans, the party needs to keep Brexit messaging down to a minimum.

Not only does it distract from the general election messages, it risks an outbreak of party infighting. And they don’t want to look as divided as the Labour Party (even if it is pretty divided). Hence the message, Get Brexit done, then invest.

Various people in opposition parties have been expressing the need to do something to wreck the Tory conference

Which is why some observers don’t think the government will reveal its hand on Brexit until after Wednesday, when this conference ends. To do otherwise is to risk a confrontation with the "Spartans", the group of ultra hard Brexiteers in the party, in the full glare of a party conference.

At least we think Wednesday will be when this conference ends: various people in opposition parties have been expressing the need to do something to wreck the Tory conference. Included in the ideas is a vote of confidence, forcing the Conservative MPs to abandon Manchester and head back to Westminster, which is of course sitting from lunchtime today.

MPs may be forced to abandon the conference to return to Westminster

There is also much talk about using the absence of Conservatives from the Chamber to push through amendments to the Benn-Burt Act (or surrender Act, as the Prime Minister would have it), aimed at closing off possible loopholes that might (in fairly extreme circumstances) allow the government to run down the clock and exit the EU on 31 October - in conformity with UK law (which Mr Johnson has consistently said he will be, whilst at the same time refusing to follow instructions - contained in the original Benn-Burt Act - to request extra time from Brussels).

All of which brings us back to our (Laboured) railway metaphor - which we shall now labour further. No, we don’t know which train will leave the station first: Brexit or the Election. And it is possible that either - or both - will end in train-wrecks for Mr Johnson, the Conservative Party, and the United Kingdom.

Or they might pull off both Brexit-with-a-deal, and win a majority at the election. But for the outside observer, the question does have to be asked: Is this any way to run a railroad?