Taking place each autumn, political party conferences are essentially like festivals where loyal groupies go en masse to cheer on their favourite stateswomen and men. Politicians take to the stage to discuss the current state of the party, set out their ambitions for the following year, and physically demonstrate that they understand the UK stretches beyond its capitals.
P-45s, writing on the wall, and coughing – the Tory conference overshadowed by the PM’s speech
Manchester hosted the Conservatives and their delegates this year. The question on everyone’s mind was whether the Prime Minister would remain leader for much longer, and who from her inner circle was itching to replace her after an embarrassing general election campaign. The who, it turns out, was Boris Johnson. The former London Mayor and current Foreign Secretary has been gunning for the top job and now smells blood after Mrs. May’s disastrous General Election result, which saw the Tories go from a majority to a minority government. Mrs. May has been haemorrhaging support since, and Boris smelled blood.
In other news, the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, made a speech during the conference defending capitalism and free-market economics, accusing Labour of leading people “down a dangerous path” through their left-leaning policies.
The Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, discussed banning acid sales after a worrying spike in attacks resulting in devastating injuries in recent months. She also brought to the forefront the discussion on tech company regulation and granting authorities access to messages on platforms such as WhatsApp that currently have end-to-end encryption, arguing that such platforms were “helping criminals”.
The most memorable address, however, was that of the Prime Minister’s. She was plagued by a tickly cough throughout her speech, detracting from the importance of the messages she was attempting to convey. If her upper-respiratory tract woes weren’t bad enough, a prankster managed to hand her a P45 – a form telling an employee that they are fired – stating it was from Boris. If those weren’t enough, the sign behind the PM started falling apart during the speech: the writing on – or falling off – the wall perhaps symbolised Ms. May’s current cabinet – fractured and in need of repair.
Finally, to add insult to injury, Boris and much of the cabinet actually had to be cajoled at the end of the speech to join in with the closing standing ovation.
“We have become a government-in-waiting” – Labour’s call to arms for another election
Labour graced the seaside town of Brighton for their rendezvous this year. The atmosphere between Labour MPs seemed amicable, with the mutinous MPs who last year would’ve wanted nothing more than to see Corbyn replaced with a cleanly shaven Blair 2.0 appearing placated after his better-than-expected performance in the General Election.
Much was discussed at the conference. There were some typical left-wing speeches about capping interest rates on credit cards, nationalising industries such as rail, water, and energy, raising the minimum wage to the highest in Europe, and taxing corporations further.
However, much beyond this was discussed. Everything from the apocalyptic hurricanes plaguing the Atlantic and the role climate change was playing in such devastating events, to automation of jobs in the future and how the country should prepare for such disruption.
The overwhelming theme, however, was Jeremy Corbyn. “Oh Je-re-my Cor-byn” was chanted at every opportunity like a case of herd-induced Tourette’s. It appeared as though Labour were rallying the troops for another election, but this may, however, be premature and in vain, considering the realistically slim chance of the Tories collapsing and ceding their power.
He (or his PR team) certainly can satiate the youth, however. He was asked whether he wanted to take off his jacket at a fringe event to which he retorted, “the man’s not hot” – referencing the latest phenomenon to grip social media: ‘the ting goes’ memes. Although the line was perhaps his most awkwardly delivered, and was as cringeworthy as seeing your dad dance at New Year’s, it was nonetheless lapped up by his young backers. At the start of his closing speech, he mentions how the atmosphere of the crowd was infectious and that they should all make sure “the whole country is infected with the same thing” (puzzled emoji). Every meme he touches turns viral so perhaps he is onto something.
Liberal Democrats limber up to regain their position
The Lib Dems took a trip to the seaside as they opened the conference season in Bournemouth.
Sir Vince Cable, the former business secretary and newly appointed party leader, is attempting to reclaim the position of the third largest party after being punished for going into coalition with the Conservatives back in 2010 and breaking crucial manifesto promises, such as the infamous tuition fee increase backtrack. The humbling experience resulted in their 57 strong MPs all but disappearing, leaving only 8 standing today. They are now in rebuilding and rebranding mode, wanting to become the party of “no Brexit is better than a bad Brexit”, and once again lure the youth, as well as appealing to the snubbed 48% who voted to stay in the EU. During the conference, delegates agreed to commit to a referendum on the final Brexit deal, with the option to stay in the EU.
Also, on the agenda were discussions about radical tax reform to tax wealth rather than work, creating disincentives for second homes, tax penalties on properties acquired for investment purposes by overseas residents, and changes to, you guessed it, tuition fees. Although, on the final point they stopped short of committing to anything specific, leaving it as the open statement “rethink the student debt burden” because “the worry about debt does cause students and their families real concern”.
The Lib Dems have always put forward convincing arguments and policies that appeal to both the left and right. However, from the conference, it appears that their current task is to convince delegates and potential members that they can deliver on these as opposed to offering false pledges.
The SNP take to Glasgow
The Scottish National Party, fronted by their leader Nicola Sturgeon, held their conference in Glasgow.
The General Election for the SNP was a big setback: they lost twenty-one parliamentary seats, but remain in power in Scotland alongside the Scottish Greens.
Key points from the conference included pledging to create a state-owned energy company in Scotland that offers the cheapest power – “renewable of course” – to homeowners, and a £20,000 bursary to professionals to go towards retraining as a teacher – due to current shortages. Scottish Labour has said that such policies had been “photocopied” from their own proposals. The SNP also said that they would pay residency fees for EU citizens currently working in the Scottish public sector, and so protect 20,000 EU nationals currently with jobs in hospitals, schools, universities, and public agencies.
They also voted for a motion calling for a ban on under-18s being recruited by the UK armed forces in roles requiring combat training. Speakers at the conference said that the military was purposely targeting youth from low-income backgrounds through social media advertising. They argued that enlisting those under eighteen increased their risk of death in battle, post-traumatic stress disorder, and alcohol abuse. Critics of this, however, argue that the motion ignores issues regarding pay, equipment, and housing, and would deny opportunities to some youngsters.
Plaid Cymru set out their vision for Wales
Plaid Cymru, the party from Wales, held their conference in Caernarfon last week.
Leader Leanne Wood, and her party, promised a “rail revolution”, offering new routes across the country as well as providing education and re-training to the over 290,000 workers in Wales threatened by increasing automation and technology disruptions. On Brexit, Plaid stated that people must have the opportunity to reject the disastrous situation of a no-deal scenario, either through a public vote or via a parliamentary democracy on the matter.
Greens set out their policies to protect the environment
The Green party, jointly headed by Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley, arrived in Harrogate, North Yorkshire for their conference. In the General election, their vote share was reduced, but they retained their Brighton Pavilion parliamentary seat.
During the conference, they stated that they had “suffered” because of a two-party system, but that their environmentally considerate ideas and policies were now part of the mainstream and that their aim was to be “the most influential” party in 21st Century politics.
Issues and policies discussed related to: electoral reforms regarding the need for a proportional voting system as opposed to a two-party one; offshore wind energy prices dropping below that of nuclear – necessitating the need for Hinkley Point C to be reconsidered; a four-day working week; the Grenfell Tower tragedy; and what Brexit would mean for the environment. On the last point, Jonathan Bartley stated that the “Green Brexit” the Conservatives had been proposing was an oxymoron, stating that “almost by definition the Conservatives seem to be anti-environment”, and their recent decisions on fracking and fossil-fuel subsidies did not align with a green vision.
Conferences offer interesting insights and opportunities to compare positions of the different parties and its members on key issues, allowing us to think about who we might vote for, the next time the occasion should arise – the fabric of a democracy.