Conference Season 2012
The politicians have now returned to their natural habitat, on the green benches of the House of Commons, from the excitement of conference. It has been over a week since the end of conference season of the three major political parties. The main stage is now empty, the barrels of drink have been drunk, the food from the fringe meetings have been eaten and even the posters of ‘fairer tax in tougher times’, ‘One Nation’ and ‘Britain can deliver’ are now in the bin (recycled bin if the Lib Dems have anything to do with it). Conference blues is amongst the many political animals that attended; however as for the residents of Birmingham, Manchester and Brighton, I am sure they are pleased that life is back to normal. Order has now been restored with no more traffic restrictions and road blocks and with all political hacks, besides BBC’s Nick Robinson, Andrew Neil and ITV’s Tom Bradby returning to hibernation, most likely until next year.
As Harold Wilson said ‘a week is a long time in politics’ and this is true as it has given enough time to allow the political volcanic dust from the conference season to settle. So what will be remembered, if anything from this year’s conferences? Will it be the hype of Ed Miliband’s no autocue speech or the good behaviour (ish) from Boris? As for the Lib Dems, umm, what can I say, probably the same as ever; nothing will be remembered.
Having said that, do the conferences play an important part, do they actually matter? Apart from the political commentators and anoraks, the general public will forget; most, if not all of the happenings from conference. However one cannot stress that it is important, if not critical for the political leaders to ‘perform’. This is because the political commentators who construct the ‘expert opinion’ have a huge impact on those voters who watch the news and read the papers. These political commentators observe and critically analyse and rightly so, the every word, every action and body language of the political elites.
Conference season, especially for the politicians and those inside the ‘Westminster bubble’ is like their version of the football world cup group stages. Conference is necessary, a key preparation for the main event being the election and for football, the world cup final. In order to reach the ultimate objective, despite often the lacklustre games of the group stages, it provides the opportunity for supporters to get together, for the team to test out formations. This is similar to conference for political parties. Conference provides the opportunity for grassroot supporters to get together, leaders to set out the future direction and test it to see if the electorate responds to it.
So what did we learn from the conference season of 2012? Apart from Ed Miliband attending his local comprehensive (I am sure you did not know that), David Cameron apparently as the ‘broom’ of the Conservative party and Clegg knowing how to mix colours accurately; ‘to make blue go green you have to add yellow’, what else did we learn? 2012 is the year where all leaders cemented their leadership. Ed Miliband now looks like his feet are well and truly placed under the Labour top table. To be fair, due to his first rate performance, it was the first time that many from the party realised that Miliband, that’s Ed rather than David, could rather than the previous unlikely view, lead them to victory.
Meanwhile whether the Lib Dems like it or not, have realised that Clegg is here to stay and that there is no real alternative. Despite the rumours of Dr Vince, there is no sign and no real possibility of Cable challenging before the general election. Clegg is safe, or as safe as any political leader can be. Forget Cleggmania, although that is somewhat a distant memory now, what about Borismania for the Conservatives. The ‘Boris Express’ arrived at Conservative conference being swamped by the media as soon as he got off the train. Only Cameron could dream of such reception. However Cameron should not be worried about Boris. Cameron is as safe leading the Tories into the next election as Boris is on one of his Boris bikes. Cameron knows that despite Boris can be a thorn in his side especially regarding Heathrow, he knows that Boris cannot seriously challenge him as leader. To start with, he needs a seat in the Commons. Mark my words, the next general election leaders debate will be Cameron Vs Miliband (Ed not David) Vs Clegg. The conferences of 2012 is where the present leaders cemented their place as leaders and will lead their parties at least to the run up to the next election.