The Conference Season

Tuesday 23rd September

It has started, the annual photo-op and free advert that is the Party Conference Season.  We will see in turn Miiliband, Cameron and Clegg smile rapturously, give speeches which will receive both standing ovations and critical analysis from the media and crowds of smiling delegates.  And in all probability it will all be for nothing; it barely affects the opinion polls at all.  Time was, of course when Party Conferences actually meant something, when real decisions were taken, when the delegates might actually affect things.  The parties after all should be about their members but sadly they aren’t.  They are about the leaders, almost exclusively; most of the delegates are there to star-gaze anyway, to maybe shake hands with one of the elite, the spokesmen of the real or shadow government, to be able to relate back to their local parties how impressive the leader’s speech had been, or not.  I went twice, to Blackpool both times; I was in my early twenties and didn’t quite understand how these things worked.  The first time I was impressed, Jim Callaghan, newly raised to PM, was imperial, calm and measured and his team, Healey, Foot and Jenkins were commanding figures having been Cabinet ministers for many years.   The second time the party was falling apart; Tony Benn had just failed in his bid to be elected Deputy leader and there was fraction and discord all around as delegate after delegate attacked the leadership rather than the Tories.  I was dismayed and shortly after stopped my involvement with the party, though this co-incided with personal matters so I was never sure exactly why.

You cannot imagine a conference like that ever again, they are far too stage managed now.  And pointless.  Although one suspects that if a party decided not to hold one it would be ridiculed by the media which loves this sort of jamboree more than real news.  Anyway for the next three weeks we will be bombarded with images and speeches and after it is all over and the dust settles I suspect the polls will be just the same as they were before.