Normally at the end of Conference season, I do a post outlining the thoughts and key themes of each conference. However there appears to be one overarching theme linking the conferences of all of the main parties. It is that of reacting to the referendum vote in June and talk of learning lessons, of reaching out and of policy shifts.
|When conference speeches go wrong: Amber Rudd delivering her |
now notorious conference speech
The biggest example of reaching out comes from the Prime Minister. Mirroring her post inauguration speech in July, May’s conference speech was a return to attempting to woo blue collar voters with promises to help people get on and promises to curb the excesses of casino-capitalism. These policy shifts are problematic for several reasons, not that this has occurred to the more excitable elements of Progress who are, frankly, bricking it from May parking her tanks on their policy lawn.
For starters, May is essentially flying in the face of many in her party who want a return to the red meat of right wing rule. Many of them are pleased at the vote in June, as this – their logic dictates – will lead to a low regulation, low ‘overheads’ and highly flexible UK out with the EU which will (apparently) attract inward investment. We saw this with the keynote speeches from Fox, Johnson and from Davies. We’ve also seen it from the various media appearances from Duncan Smith – a man who went to Easterhouse and left wanting to make the residents life more difficult.
Part of that desire to re-establish a right wing government in the UK comes from the perception that Labour are out contention for the next UK Westminster Election (at least) and partly from the perception that UKIP will now be a busted flush – their aim of ‘an Independent UK’ now on course to be reality. In the case of Labour’s (self inflicted, due in no small measure to the Blairite Progress Fifth Column) incapacitation as an electoral force, this has fueled May’s desire to adopt so called ‘centrist’ policies. UKIP’s problems has also fueled policy grabs - witness Amber Rudd’s embarrassing conference speech (above) and rank bad foreigners list policy.
Whether May actually will enact those ‘centrist’ policies will be a mute point. The thing that marks UK politics is the ability of our leaders to talk left but to act right. Blair and Brown got away with it as Labour politicians because of the New Labour assumption that real left wing policies were not popular. Cameron and May might receive envious glances from Progress wingers, but ultimately won’t get away with it. Cameron, because he wasn’t clever enough to get away from the perception that he was ultimately too clever by half. May because, I think, triangulation and swiping of centrist policies won’t be her priorities.
Labour have been trying to reach out too… across no mans land to each wing of the party. After a bitter and divisive leadership election campaign won by Corbyn, we now have the bitter and divisive fall out from said election campaign. There hasn’t really been very much new in terms of policy coming from Corbyn’s Labour party, partly because any policy announcements would be the start of another big fall out. For both the Momentum and the Progress factions within Labour, the time for talking is almost over. Either they find a way to pull together for the sake of their party… or they both take their share in the near inevitable slaughter currently scheduled for May 2020.
If we are watching the break-up of the Labour party, it’s main beneficiaries here in Scotland seem ideally placed to slip into their shoes. Especially in the key test of sounding more radical than you are stakes. It seems to be forgotten among the heat generated by the First Ministers announcement that preparations for the Bill to pass to enable a second Independence referendum are to begin this week that the SNP backed proposals for a third runway at Heathrow. That Heathrow’s owners paid for a stall at last weeks conference is, of course, entirely coincidental and was in no way an influence on the SNP government. However, allied to the conservative manifesto for May’s Holyrood election, the SNP do find themselves in a quandary with a noisy left wing contingent at Westminster and a centrist at best, sitting Holyrood government. Then again, Independence and the attainment of it is turning into a rather handy fig leaf for, if not the SNP hierarchy then certainly the online supporters and the pro-Indy… er… blogs (surely “News Websites”? – Ed).
Indeed, to Sturgeon’s credit, she or the Scottish Government haven’t gone down the route that the more excitable pro-Indy supporters have gone down of not criticising the party for fear of handing ammunition to the hated “Yoons”. While her opening conference speech on Thursday morning concerned itself with the EU referendum fallout and that Indyref 2 announcement, Saturday’s Keynote speech concerned itself with domestic issues. That and a call for inclusion.
It’s not been the first time Sturgeon has made a call to be inclusive and to be respectful of ‘No’ voters in the Independence referendum, though it’s the first time this call has been made through the prism of the EU referendum. It is a call that has gone unheeded on the MacTwittersphere as people still insist on using the phrase “Yoons”, the hashtag #youyesyet and other such things insinuating that ‘we’ told you so. Personally, I find that all tiresome and disrespectful of the pro-Union voter. After all, it’s not as if the case for Independence was bombproof. Much more annoying is the disrespect shown to those people (including myself) that voted to leave the EU.
A million Scots voted Leave in June, I’d imagine that a hefty proportion of them voted because of the EU’s “Ever closer union” doctrine which sees consistent land grabs of power from sovereign states around the EU or because of the EU’s failure to deal with the aftermath of the Credit Crunch and subsequent banking crisis. For those people (as it does for me) immigration figures (if it does) way down the list of reasons to leave the EU. Instead, those voters are treated with distain and like closet Tories. If the SNP Government genuinely wanted to be inclusive, they’d take our criticisms of the EU on board and not dismiss them as “we know the EU is not perfect, but…”.
But then again, the SNP have their own agenda with the EU, wishing to do things that will placate the EU, which they hope will smooth the path for an Independent Scotland to join the EU. It is the only explanation I have for their naïve attitude towards the EU and their unquestioning adoption of European directives like with the outsourcing of Ferry routes or the contract for Scotrail being given to companies (or the national rail network of the Netherlands in the case of Abbelo).
It is a sure sign that the political landscape is still in flux that all of the big parties held conservative conferences that played to their own supporter’s core values but talked big on issues out with their comfort zones. While Labour are still trying to find their way out of their self inflicted wilderness, both the Tories and the SNP made claims and policy statements designed to keep their electoral attractiveness in difficult times. The problem with that is that talk is cheep and governments are judged on actions, not warm fuzzy words. Just ask the man whose stock since leaving office is still plummeting, David Cameron.