Monday, 22 October 2012

Some Thoughts About The Conference Season

With the conference season now at a close (for non Scottish readers, the SNP conference finished yesterday), there are a few things that have emerged that are worthy of comment.
One nation under god...  ah, no... wait... wrong speech.

1)  Referendum…  What Referendum?

Last Monday saw the final agreement between the Westminster & Holyrood governments to hold a referendum on Scotland’s place in the Union.  You wouldn’t have thought that this referendum was happening judging by the political talk at the conferences of the three main Westminster parties.  Indeed, at most Cameron & Milliband the Younger probably devoted around 4 sentences each on how utterly committed they were to defending the Union, before ploughing on with their own self absorbed arguments.

The Better Together group are claiming to take no vote for granted, yet all the party leaders gave only a cursory mention to the dominant political issue in Scotland, as if Independence was some sort of irritant to the real issues (which, thanks to the descent into arguing about something as arcane as the question for months on end, does look very off putting).  One wonders whether as the campaign unfolds, the Westminster party leaders can afford to be so casual towards the views of part of the country.

2) Labour Have Signed Up to George’s “Scorched Earth Policy” – Fact

Anyone who saw some of Ed Balls speeches in 2011 and 2012 will not be surprised by that statement, especially as Labour have done anything but publicise this part to the wider electorate who will have missed this in the edited highlights of both speeches.  Balls reiterated this point in this years speech to conference, that cuts will have to be made – “we cannot make any commitments now that the next Labour government will be able to reverse particular tax rises or spending cuts…  as I said to the TUC, we must be upfront with the British people that under Labour there would have been cuts and that – on spending, pay and pensions – there will be difficult decisions in the future from which we will not flinch.” 

The difference this year is that the “Scottish” Labour leader Johanne Lamont has now made two speeches, the second her Scottish leader’s speech at the Labour conference, calling into question the affordability of certain “universal benefits”.  As I have pointed out in the previous post, her attempt to start a debate into public services has seen her party lurch to the right because of the badly chosen arguments and frankly awful politics at play here. 

Yet, rather tellingly, rather than spin their way out of the hole they find themselves in, Labour have played this with a straight bat and honestly believe that there is mileage in means testing, targeted benefits, Tuition Fees and higher local taxes rather than a more viable alternative of cuts to middle management, pay freezes to heads of service, pay freezes to vice Chancellors and targeted tax rises.

3) The Conservatives have Lurched To The Right

Anyone remember the 1993 Tory Conference?  It was the one where Peter Lilley first blamed single mothers for all of the ills in society, the one where Michael Howard declared that “Prison works” and the one, I think, where the Prime Minister John Major concluded his speech to conference with a call to return to the values of the 1950’s.  In short, Major’s “Back to basics” speech concluded a conference that saw the Tories lurch (disastorously) to the right in short shrift.  There were sighters that the Tories were preparing for a shift rightwards (that reshuffle anyone?), but Cameron’s Tories have now performed a similar manoeuvre to the one performed by John Major’s government.

Those sighters were the promotions of climate change deniers (Patterson) and supporters of a third runway at Heathrow (McLoughlan).  Confirmation of the sharp turn right came with Osborne’s piss poor speech to conference, where he gave us a paper thin defence of his “Scorched Earth" policy of cuts and offered workers shares to give up centuries long hard fought rights. 

Lemmings.  Jumping.  Cliff.

In among the above, Osborne was channelling the spirit of Lilley by promising more benefit cuts, £10 billion of them, while elsewhere there was an announcement relaxing the rules regarding householders confronted by burgulars.  All of which signs that the Tories are moving right regardless of their coalition partners.  Speaking of which…

4)  The Race to Succede Nick Clegg has begun.

While Clegg did enough to see off the immediate threat to his position as Lib Dem leader, the discontent about his position has not gone away.  Indeed it could be argued that the Lib Dem’s performed the reverse manoeuvre to their coalition partners in that they began to move away from “Orange Book-ism” during this conference.

The Lib Dem’s announced some sort of new business bank.  However it is the Lib Dem’s kite flying on various “Wealth” taxes, alongside various announcements about tax avoidance, which has seen the Lib Dems move slightly to the left.  These last measures play into the preferred standpoints of the Business Secretary, “St” Vince Cable, who many believe to be the favourite to succeed Clegg.  Personally, I would urge caution on that front.  Firstly because by the time Clegg goes, Cable may not be so unscathed by life in government, and secondly because Tim Farron (the Lib Dem president) has been quietly and effectively doing his job and also defending the Lib Dem line on certain programmes & media outlets.

5)  That Referendum Campaign Has Now Started

Conference season ended with the SNP conference, which came days after the signing of “The Edinburgh Agreement” (© Alex Salmond, 2012) which commits the UK & Holyrood parliaments to a single question referendum on Scotland’s continued position in the United Kingdom.  Not surprisingly this dominated proceedings at Perth, with the SNP only now starting to make their pitch for independence.

What was intriguing though was that because it seems that the SNP are only now thinking about their arguments, that we now have the proposal (now passed) to end the SNP’s opposition to NATO.  I wonder if, firstly, that this proposal would have been better put last year when Salmond was still (metaphorically speaking) walking on water and, secondly, if there will be a hangover from this vote.  After all, it is a hallmark of left of centre politics in this country that grudges are carried all too easily.

6)  Conferences Should Be More Voter Friendly.

Lastly, this is something that occurred to me on the day of Ed Milliband’s “One Nation” speech.  Most of the the main key-note speeches take place in mid afternoon (when most people are at work).  Surely it would make more sense to schedule keynote speeches to a point in the day when you can get the optimum audience.  I suppose the SNP should probably take note of this too, after all a Saturday afternoon is not really the optimum time to get you message out.  Especially as “Yes Scotland” camp start very far behind the status quo.  Something we should be looking at that happens with the American “Convention’s”.

1 comment:

Stuart Winton said...

Allan, I doubt if the TV networks would be interested in carrying party leaders' speeches at prime time, so I'm not really sure what could be done to increase exposure. Essentially I doubt the public would be that interested, even if the speeches were televised at a more optimal time.

As I recall it the speeches are time so that the soundbites will gain maximum exposure on the early evening news bulletins. That's about as interested as most members of the public are likely to get!!