Posts Tagged ‘party conference’

As party conference season approaches, have these political menageries ever been less relevant?

16/08/2012, 07:00:39 AM

by Peter Watt

So the Olympics are over and the Premier League is about to start (apologies to Scots readers, I know that the SPL has already started).  We have the fantastic Paralympics to look forward to and possibly even a little bit of late summer sun.

But, for the political world the next few weeks are the calm before the conference season madness begins.  Already political obsessives will be beginning to think about their conference itineraries.

The odd invite or two for receptions will have arrived in advance of the tsunami that will hit from early September.  Labour colleagues will be secretly smiling at the excitement of the priorities ballot; they will be wondering about this year’s conference slogan and keeping their fingers crossed about the leader’s speech.  For what it’s worth I predict that the words “fair” and “future” will feature large.

For activists, attending conference is a mix between a holiday and a religious vocation.  Party democracy is revered, the rule book studied, senior politicians are scrutinised and friends socialised with.

Anyone who is anyone makes sure that if they possibly can be there then they are.  People who would never normally willingly forego their middle class comforts are suddenly prepared to sleep on floors and worse if it means that they can attend.  If you can’t be there then you find yourself guiltily justifying yourself by saying “no, but I will definitely be there next year”.

It costs a fortune in travel, accommodation, food and of course booze.  But for a whole week of your life you feel at the centre of the world as the stories that emerge from the conference dominate the news and it’s worth every penny.  And you hungrily devour the news morning, noon and night while you’re there to make sure that the hugely important events that you are witnessing are covered fairly.

Which of course they never are; as while the conference that you are attending is always united friendly and optimistic, those rats from the press insist on reporting splits and rancour.


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Like a big lunch: the leader’s speech is too much to digest

12/10/2011, 01:44:21 PM

by Kevin Meagher

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to hear Ed Miliband make a speech like that ever again. Not a criticism of the contents of his recent conference address in Liverpool – perish the thought – rather a call to scrap the whole palaver of the annual leader’s speech.

Well not really scrap, more a “refounding” of the whole idea. The current model has had its day. The annual hour-and-a-bit long, Tuesday afternoon speech has become stale and predictable. Not so much a shop window for Labour but a stock check. Visionary bit? Check. Thank-yous to unsung party heroes? Check. Anecdote about meeting a real person? Check. Emotional bit about own life? Check. Attack stuff? Check. Serious and inspirational bit? Check. Clap lines? Check. Gags? Check.

The overall effect is stodgy and lumpy. Like eating a big lunch, it becomes rather hard to digest and does little for your productivity for the rest of the day.

For next year, Ed should try something different. Some iconoclasts around him were said to have been arguing to do away with the annual ritual altogether, making a series of speeches around the country instead. Others say that we should follow the Tories and Lib Dems and store up the leader’s speech until the end of the week. (more…)

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Normal people don’t notice party conferences

06/10/2011, 07:30:53 AM

by Peter Watt

I have had a funny old conference season, in that I have essentially “watched” them all via the media of morning and evening news broadcasts and twitter. In other words, my consumption has been filtered. Conference would have passed me by, if I hadn’t actively sought out coverage, something most normal people don’t do. All of that time, effort and money spent on the annual jamborees; and most people will have barely noticed.

My overriding impression is that those unlucky enough to have tuned in, will have hardly seen an advert for a vibrant democracy. To be honest, I no longer understand those who still believe that the status quo, in terms of political party organisation in this country, is sustainable. And before anyone thinks that this a rant aimed only at the Labour party, far from it. Just read Fraser Nelson over at The Spectator on the Tory conference:

“If conferences are increasingly attended by people who are there to meet each other, no wonder there are empty seats in the hall. Most of the passholders couldn’t care less about what’s being said in the hall. It reflects a deeper malaise across our politics more generally”. (more…)

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Fiddling while Athens, Lisbon and Rome burn

29/09/2011, 08:44:38 AM

by Peter Watt

I am worried, really worried. And not just about where the Labour party goes after this week’s leaders speech. Although I certainly am worried about that.

No, what really worries me is the economy. Although I am no economist I can read the runes. Europe and America’s economies are in trouble, big trouble. Unemployment is rising. And every day seems to bring a new round of the latest economic indicators – and they indicate that something really bad is happening.

Think back to when Gordon Brown was busy saving the world. We were shocked that banks, those rock solid bastions of capitalism, could actually fail. I remember the uncertainty and fear in those months, when it seemed that the economic system, as we knew it, could collapse. Shops started closing on our high streets. Where were you when Woolworths closed?

Interest rates and the stock markets were in free fall. And the numbers being used to describe the scale of bailouts were so big that they seemed meaningless. In fact, what we now know, thanks to the memoirs of Alistair Darling and others, is that in reality the situation was even worse. Some pretty big high street banks were hours away from turning off their ATMs. (more…)

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The Tories still have the best tunes

08/09/2011, 07:00:07 AM

by Peter Watt

Back to school this week; families are struggling and life is hard. Kitting out one child is expensive, and we have more than one. Shoes £30 – £40, skirts £15 each and you need several, white shirts £6 each and at least two school sweat shirts at £15 per pop. Then there’s the PE kit. And pressure to buy a new school bag and pencil case. So not much change from £150 there then. More than one and the price goes up. And of course, all of this comes at the end of a long summer, with the inevitable costs of entertaining the kids with or without the cost of the annual holiday.

Over the last few years fuel price rises mean that it costs at least £70 per week to fill the car, parking charges have been raised and the gas and electric just keep going up. You try and cut down on usage, you get your cavity walls filled, your “units used” drops; but the bill still rises. Your weekly shop costs more and you seem to be getting less. Train and bus fares are higher this year as well and they’ll probably go up again next year. So there really is no slack in the budget to pay for the back to school purchases – credit card it is then. Assuming there’s still some credit left. And there’s a pretty good chance that over the next few weeks there will be a series of letters from the school asking for money for trips, photographs and commemorative school tea-towels.

What is worse, is that many are also worried about their job. So they are working longer hours in order to impress the boss just in case. And maybe there is a second job just to help make ends meet.  There’s not much, if anything, left at the end of the month. The TV is full of news of more economic woes to come. It just doesn’t seem fair. (more…)

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What is party conference for?

25/08/2011, 08:00:01 AM

by Peter Watt

I have been pondering for a while what exactly party conferences are about. What are they for? This week Labour has announced that it will hold an “open day” at its conference in Liverpool.  Up to 2000 members of the public are invited to attend and can register online for a full day’s programme of policy discussions. Wednesday 28 September is described as:

“…the first of its kind from any political party, is an opportunity for you to join the conversation about the challenges our country faces and talk to Labour Leader, Ed Miliband, and the Shadow Cabinet face to face”.

I think that this is probably a good idea; well in a symbolic way at least. It sends a signal that the leadership is determined to open up the party beyond the dwindling band of party activists. And that has to be a good thing. It is clearly unsustainable for handfuls (relatively) of party activists to maintain the pretence that they alone should determine policy, choose candidates and so on. But does it go far enough and will anyone be interested? (more…)

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What really goes on at Labour party conference, by Dan Hodges

24/09/2010, 02:00:57 PM

At the opening of North by North West, Cary Grant’s character, Roger Thornhill, is abducted from his friends and family, transported to a remote location, and persecuted by his captors. Confused and disoriented, they pour alcohol down his throat, question and abuse him, and demand answers about his work with government. Finally, his ordeal complete, he is thrown out onto the road, left to negotiate his own hazardous route back to safety  and sanity.

Roger Thornhill would have felt right at home at Labour conference. As a party we proclaim a passionate commitment to reform of the Parliamentary process. The insane working hours. The drinking culture. A building unfit for purpose. Yet, for some reason, when it comes to internal policymaking we think the best solution is to entomb the entire Labour movement for a week in a cramped, sweaty, municipal arena, deny them food and sleep, ply them with booze, then refuse to let them out until they’ve discovered the new Jerusalem.

Soon after our victory in 1997, I asked a Downing Street aide whether they planned to follow through on Tony Blair’s stated desire to downsize conference, or even make it a biennial event. “Daren’t”, came the reply. “Party wouldn’t stand for it”. Abolish Clause four. Invade Iraq. Privatise public services. No  problem. Touch the free spread at agents’ night and you’re history.


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