It has been conference season in the political world, and the Tories have just wrapped up what can only be described from the outside as quite a shambolic affair, showcasing weak leadership and unstable backdrops, but in reality, did anyone else do any better? The simple answer is no, not one of us barely registered a positive ripple, never mind a momentous earthquake. This year has been all about style and personality politics and less about substance and every party has missed or fumbled a huge opportunity.
Historically, I like Party conference. Having attended nearly all since I joined Labour in 2010, this was the first one I have missed, but unlike when I didn’t go in 2011, this was a personal choice, and in hindsight, the right one. Conference, for me, is about meeting up with other activists up and down the country, learning how other people do things and debating the issues (hopefully some over a glass of wine and some sort of food). More importantly it’s about listening to leading members in the party, front bench, committee chairs, LGA reps about what has happened in the past 12 months of note, and where they believe our direction should focus in the future. As someone who has led or been involved with strategy and manifesto development for quite a while. this is key to providing the backbone to work in the next 12 months, that you flesh out at the local level.
It is also a time to get direction on the big issues that are coming up over the next 12 months and this is where we as a party dropped the ball in quite frankly a colossal way by not debating Brexit. It doesn’t matter if you are pro or anti-Brexit, we are seen as having an inconsistent view and a vote from the party conference would have given the leadership a strong, democratic view, on the direction they need to take. instead, Brexit got thrown with everything else that revolved around one issue, the Leadership. The Labour party failed in this conference because it was all about, yet again, securing Jeremy’s Leadership which was already secure from this time last year. We should have been building on the Manifesto. To be absolutely clear, unlike Len and others, I know we lost the last election, but it was a lot closer that anyone imagined and therefore you could assume a lot of the manifesto resonated well with the public, and therefore we need to build upon it, develop the good ideas further because they have been around for a while and most importantly develop our economic competence. But we didn’t do this, we saw a greater focus on inward looking issues, about disgraceful campaigns to sack party staff and antisemitism rear its head again.
But, credit where credit is due, the conference hall was packed and Jeremy did shape and style the conference all around him, showing the type of leader he is and wants to be. Never in recent years has there been so much singing and chanting on the conference floor. And when you look at the competition, perhaps this was a stroke of genius for Jeremy to have the internal focus, because no-one else is putting up any competition.
In a very quick run through, the Tories seemed badly attended and “a source” tells me they didn’t even run out of champagne. They will be disappointed that the main headlines will be about a persistent cough and falling “F’s”, rather than a string coherent plan. You could suggest that Teresa May was simply unlucky, in fact I was giving a talk myself around the similar time as her where I had a niggly throat too, so have some sympathy, but this is just the latest event that proves her incompetence. I remember when she took office and her initial speech had some left wing people worried because she was marching to the centre ground and even appealing to the centre left, she was on the offensive for our votes. And for a while it worked, her ratings soared, Labour ratings went down the pan, she then started introducing and increasing more awful policy, but she was getting away with it. Then she called the GE, and what should have been her finest moment, ended up being the worst conservative election campaign in living history. She has then consistently bumbled around, with her conference speech, whilst unfortunate, was a metaphor for her leadership, coughing and spluttering, with the house falling down around her. I only hope that the closing down of conference after her speech, also extends the metaphor to her leadership.
UKIP elected a new leader, I’m not entirely sure who, but he must regret buying those tombola tickets. No doubt it won’t be long before they leave through that revolving leadership door and Nigel comes back again to pick up the pieces, with more ego driven cries of “woe is me, why do i have to do this”. Joking aside, I’m not entirely sure what they are doing now, or really what they stand for. Maybe its time to call it a day?
The Liberal Democrats apparently had a conference too, I know this because people I know in Gloucester put pictures on their Facebook. And did the Greens have one at all?
On the one hand, I don’t think anyone expected a campaigning conference season just after the GE in June, but given the turbulent place that is politics at the moment, you would have thought one of the parties might have seized the initiative and showcased some learning from the GE and crafted some fantastic policy as a result. I think the main messages are that Labour have tightened their grip on a new, personality driven direction, and the Tories hopefully (for the sake of the country as much as anything else) will be having another leadership election in the next few weeks.