Monday, 7 October 2013

Some Thoughts on Conference Season 2013

With the conference season now at a close for the main UK parties (The SNP’s autumn conference takes place in two weeks) there have been a few things that have emerged that are worthy of comment.

1) The Scottish Independence Referendum is the great“Move Along… there’s nothing to see” Moment of our times.

It is now apparent that while the media here in Scotland is full of stories about and pieces discussing the Independence referendum, this story hasn’t quite taken hold in the rest of the UK.  Nick Clegg’s main set piece speech was even scheduled (and overshadowed here) on the one year to polling date.

It’s the other two leaders though that has shown their distain for the whole process.  Milliband’s speech included a section where he equated Independence to the break up of the NHS.  Had he even bothered to dip into the campaign, he would have know that one of the key arguments employed by Yes Scotland is that Independence would protect the Scottish health services from the sort of creeping privatisation that has gone on within the English part of the NHS since, well pretty much Thatcher.  As we will see, Miliband’s incursion north was the only black mark in what looks very much like a key speech on the road to May 2015.

Cameron’s speech set out the argument for a no vote thus.  We want you to stay… er…  that’s really it.  Last year I bemoaned the cursory mention for the debate raging across Scotland., this year it seems as if the Westminster parties have failed to grasp that the debate has moved on.  The debate now encompasses how to get the public services and safety nets we need, which is a difficult debate to have when the Westminster parties all supported the Spare Room Subsidy & privatisation of the Royal Mail.

It is this intransigence that really should be hurting the No camp, while Cameron’s attitude to a proposed debate with Alex Salmond is frankly baffling and reminiscent of a defender who has just hacked down a skilful forward holding his hands up to say “nothing to do with me…”.  The headline debate should be between the elected head of the UK government and the elected head of the Scottish government.

2) The Orange-Bookers have regained the upper hand in the Lib Dems, to the detriment of their poll ratings

The first of the main conferences was the Lib Dem conference just up the road in Glasgow.  Nick Clegg will be very pleased about how the conference went from a personal point of view.  He looks to be now firmly in control of his party, the only note of dissent came in a vote over the notorious “Bedroom Tax”. Meanwhile the darling of the Social Liberal wing “St” Vince Cable had a disasterous conference – all encapsulated with his initial refusal to take part in a debate on the economy before deciding to take part.

The paradox in all of this is that while Clegg looks more secure in his position, the more the Lib Dems look more ignorant of the disaster that is on its way in May 2015.  While their strategy seems to be vote for us & we’ll curb the excesses of the Tories & Labour, they now have a record to defend.  It rather unfortunately is a record of being the personal doormat of the Tories.

3) “Action Man” Milliband’s Speech has put Labour back in the Election Race

While I still think that the Tories will win in 2015 (if anything, they look as if they could be the beneficiaries of a Lib Dem collapse – more than Labour), Miliband’s party has now put forward policies.  However it’s the policy to reform the energy market – with a freeze in the price of energy while these reforms are constructed – that has caught the zeitgeist.

This policy is the centrepiece of what looks to be the Labour’s campaign for the next Westminster election  - a campaign attacking the parlous drop in living standards since the last election.  There are votes to be had in this argument.

Yet, Labour still have to recover from waiting for 6 months before committing to scrapping the bedroom tax while I’m sure there is capital from Labour’s refusal to torpedo the privatisation of the Royal Mail. 

4) The Nasty Party Is Back

Last year, I posted that the Tories had taken a right turn, influenced by the rise of UKIP.  Well this year, that lurch to the right has become further entrenched with the announcement of the proposed removal of the right to benefits for under 25’s.  Coupled with the attacks on the poor & low paid, this conference saw the Tories return to their nasty party roots.

All of this should, in theory, completely undermine their pisspoor pleas for Scotland to stay in the Union.  After all what incentive is there for people to stay in a country where they and not those who caused the credit crunch/recession are blamed.  What it does say is that the Tories are spooked.  To the right, UKIP are gathering votes apace from disaffected tories while Miliband’s fuel cap policy seems to have put a bit more solidity into their poll lead. With the news that serial rent-a-quote MP Adam Afriyie wants to try and force an early EU referendum – taking place next year – there are signs that the Tories are not in the good shape that their conference suggests.

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