The political conference season is at the half way stage. The good comrades, all trundle up to Manchester for Sunday. This year, yours truly won’t be doing the circuit. Having tended more conferences than is good for the sanity of any man. I’ve been let off for good behaviour or is it for bad behaviour.
Having attended conferences of all political hue its still baffles as to why so many ordinary party members turn up at these events. Some even making it their annual holiday. Hardly, normal behaviour, it’s a bit sad really.
And what for. Certainly not to debate issues. Those days are far gone. Everything is a set piece event that party planners think will go down well on the the tele. Policy making, it is not. Well, apart from the Liberal Democrats who still cling on to the quaint idea of using their members to make policy.
And what do they do? They also serve who only sit and wait. And sit they do, through the most tedious of speakers. At one time you’d hear the odd orator, not any more. It’s all so bland.
The increase in standing ovations for mediocre politicians is probably more to do with preventing deep vein thrombosis than with the merits of the speakers.
It does take a special type of person to turn up to germ ridden, hot and sweaty conference halls. They may not be inspired to take a political message back to their constituencies but they sure as hell spread colds and flu around the country on their return.
With lemmings its a once in a lifetime event, for the party delegate they do it year after year after year. Why?
They’re the rump of the old ideology that brought them into that particular party in the first place. While the rest of their party has become an ideology free zone, they continue to hold with the old faith. And each year they meet with others that hold the flame alive.
Despite disappointment after disappointment they still hope that things will be different and their leaders will start to listen to them. Unlikely.
But like the old religious revival meetings they can sing the Red Flag, Jerusalem or Land of Hope and Glory. And the warm glow will bring them back again next year.
Conferences offer all party leaders the opportunity to speak direct to the public. Nick Clegg decided to say ‘pass’ to the opportunity. He may have started his week with “sorry” to the great unwashed, but yesterday his message was very much focussed on shoring up his own position within his party.
There was even a bit of whistling in the dark, declaring his party could bounce back and become Britain’s ‘third party of government.’ Oh yes. But that depends in part on the British economy recovering from the clinical coma it finds itself in.
In stating the bleeding obvious he excelled. Of course, he’s right that the voters, not politicians, will decide who will lead the next government. But it was always thus. Your point is what, Mr Clegg?
It was a classic case of putting up paper tigers to win over his party audience. His pledge to veto a further cut in the top rate of income tax. Well, it was at 50p and is now 45p. There is little to suggest that Osborne wants to cut it further. But the delegates got the warm glow from Clegg’s declaration.
There was little comfort to the rest of the country that the austerity imposed by the government would change any time soon. He was tied to plan A and he was not for turning.
So both parties will hang together. As hang they surely will, if voters still feel the pinch at the time of the 2015 election. After all it’s alleged the reason they went into coalition in the first place.
All he was offering yesterday ‘was further belt tightening.’ Not the best of platforms to win back all those supporters that have deserted the party.
He even dared some of the rump that is left, to up sticks and go. “If people want just protest politics, if they want a sort of ‘I don’t like the world let me get off’ party, they’ve got one. It’s called the Labour Party.”
The party built its electoral base on being involved in local protests is he seriously suggesting that they can build a base without tapping into idealism and protest.
What was absolutely clear from yesterday’s bravado performance is that he ain’t going to make way anytime soon. His speech made it clear that he wasn’t going to fall on his sword.
But if the party’s poll ratings don’t improve by next year’s conference. Well, then all bets are off. Many of his colleagues will start to panic and may look for anyone they think will save their bacon. It is a party that has not been afraid to wield the knife in the past.
What a fickle lot voters are. Pollster after pollster will record how much voters hate political parties bickering with each other. The cry is ‘they should work together in the national interest.’
Yet, if you look at the poll ratings of the Liberal Democrats they’re been seriously punished for going into a coalition with the Cameron’s conservatives.
Despite Labour having a 10% lead in the polls at the moment, leads tend to narrow in election campaigns. So there is no certainty that any party will emerge with an overall majority.
Another hung parliament is a quite plausible outcome.
It’s not just mischief-making that Ed Balls and Ed Miliband have been up to in texting Vince Cable. They may need him to deliver his colleagues come the election. Provided, of course, they have enough MPs left to make a deal.
What may be an exception in Westminster does tend to be the norm in Wales. Majorities are as rare as a win for the Wales football team.
Both the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru have been junior partners in a coalition government. Neither gained electoral support for their period in office.
Why? Well, both parties place themselves as left of centre parties. Both provide the voter with a respectable alternative to Labour at times when Labour are unpopular. What happens when Labour are on a high? The voters move back again to their original political home.
When a leftist party ties itself to a right wing party you don’t have to be Mystic Meg to predict it will all end in tears.
So what are the lessons for our smaller parties. Be very careful where you place yourself on the political spectrum.
With the Liberal Democrats having paraded their left wing credentials at the last election and then moved to the right whilst in government. They can hardly move back to where they were and retain any political credibility.
Nick Clegg made that quite clear in his speech to conference. “The choice between the party we were and the party we are becoming is a false one. The past is gone and is not coming back” .
But ironically it’s in the past the party has to go to find an unique place in the political spectrum. They’ve got to ditch the democrats and become a Liberal party again.Yes, the radical party of Lloyd George. Challenging the conservatism of both left and right. A party of civil liberties and of real home rule.
Unless it rediscovers its pass, it ain’t got a future.