How to Enjoy Party Conference Season

Will Holmes

Will is a campaigner, political obsessive and sometime amateur actor. Having just helped win the election for Barack Obama, he's looking for his next cause to take up his life. Often seen walking the fields and drinking in the pubs of Kent, he's got a lot of opinions (and love) to share.

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Guys! It’s Party Conference season! I know, I’m just as excited about it as you are.

The time has come again for the endless sound bites, for our TV screens and newspapers to be filled with gossip about who doesn’t like who, who’s been seen to be eating what, and speculation about what each leader is going to say. Hundreds of party activists descend on cities across the country, getting together to ‘agree’ policy positions, hear their dear leaders speak to them about how rosy everything is for the party, and to be surprised by rushed out policies that are the flavour of the month (and might just be ignored when it comes to manifesto commitments). This is the opportunity for the whole party to come together, understand that the relevant LGBT groups hold the BEST kick-off parties, connect with ‘the people’, dominate the media attention for a few days, and generally get down to some good old fashioned infighting. It’s a chance for charities, businesses and anyone else with a vested interest in who is next elected to make themselves heard, and come up with more and more ways to be seen as innovative.

We’ve already had the Lib Dem conference, where Nick Clegg and Vince Cable had a well-orchestrated spat about whether the coalition would last until 2015 – designed, I assume, to show that Clegg has control of his party, that it is united, but that health debate is ‘welcomed’. Here we learnt that the Government would offer free school meals to all infant school children (an idea I think is brilliant), only to have it picked apart immediately by some of their coalition partners and Labour as unworkable. Oops. We even had the Lib Dems begins their cosying up to Labour with many in the party, including the leader, declaring that the Lib Dems will not be the largest party, but should be in a coalition after the next election, with Labour if need be. Quite remarkable really, for a leader to admit he won’t win an election! Weirdly enough, Clegg’s position seems more stable after this conference – even with the spats – and the Lib Dems looks like the most united of the main parties.

It’s Labour next, where we can expect Ed Milliband to make a bland speech that is lauded as brilliant by his MPs, where Labour might begin to give us some idea of its policies going into 2015 (we had a tantalising glimpse this weekend with the party’s announcement that it will rescind the bedroom tax), and where the party will attempt to bang home about One Nation Labour. We’ll also get Labour trying to prove that its not weak on crime, or immigration – Ed announced on Sunday that a Labour government would ‘curb’ non-EU immigration for example.

YAWN

It’ll be cleverly orchestrated, with an opportunity to mend the relationships with the Unions (without actually giving them anything) with soundbites coming from every angle. It’s all pretty dull really. The Tory conference will be much the same, although expect some of the right-wing fringe meetings to focus on the ‘disgrace’ of a Conservative party that pushed through equal marriage, and for Europe to dominate the agenda.

The three main parties probably won’t light up your lives but, as is often the case, the smaller parties and the fringes probably will. UKIP already have. Their conference, an attempt by Nigel Farrage to present a ‘professional’ party that can actually be a political force, went awry almost from the moment it began. The dinosaurs rolled out and immediately started lamenting huge immigration, the horrific loss of traditional marriage and bang on about the EU (hilariously, Farrage told us all the main parties lie – going on to tell us that 75% of laws come from the EU, when the figure is more like 10%…). And then came dear old Godfrey Bloom, the lovely MEP who wants to fight for men’s rights, and hates that we give money to Bongo Bongo Land (sounds like a fun imaginary place, anyone want to go?). Not content with being a bit racist, he went on to say a room of women was ‘full of sluts’ then whacked a journalist on the head with a newspaper. Genuinely. Of course, Farrage was furious – suspending Bloom from the party immediately, and lauding the loss of all the ‘good’ publicity for UKIP. Shame.

Conferences are fun. When things go wrong. When the people, the modern, bland and PR savvy parties with all the national media attention say something down right dumb. If you want entertainment in the next couple of weeks, I’d stick to the smaller parties. Or watch how many times Labour and Conservative MPs make their leaders squirm by saying something the party really doesn’t want. Ah politics, its such a fickle world, but its amazing entertainment sometimes.