The annual conferences of the major UK political parties are meccas for anyone wanting to get a snapshot of the UK political scene and none more so than the conference of the party in power, the Labour Party. A few observations from two day’s attendance:
- ‘Not Flash, just Gordon’, promised the new ads and that was just what we got. Last year, Tony Blair had Bob Geldoff and Bill Clinton on the ticket. This year Gordon Brown seemed to prefer the more prosaic presence of everyday “have a go heroes” like John Smeaton, the baggage handler who tackled the Glasgow airport bombers
- This was much more Labour than New Labour . . . at least as far as the branding was concerned. On day one and two, the desk on the main stage sported the words ‘New Labour for Britain’, but by day three this had been replaced by ‘The Strength to Change Britain’. The logos around the main hall were projections of the word ‘Labour’ without the ‘New’. We may have seen the last of ‘New’.
- An atmosphere of smug relief pervaded the corridors as delegates gleefully pored over polls of an up-to 11 point lead over the Tories. This time last year there was fear that the handover would be mishandled or that Gordon Brown would be rejected by the public (and could the party cope without Tony, the man who led them to three election victories). Those two fears have gone and combined with a self destructing Tory party, the Labour faithful can barely contain their glee and all talk is of “when” the next election will be fought, not “if” it will be won . . . . which may prove a costly assumption.
- The number of fringe meetings with ‘green’ or ‘environment’ or ‘sustainability’ in their title was huge
- There seems to be a new atmosphere that regulation and government intervention can solve things and the contribution the free market economy has made was conspicuous by its absence . . . . and speech after speech talked about he money “we” or “the party” had poured into the NHS or education as if the party had earned that money itself . . . very old Labour indeed.
And some piccies for you:
The Prime Minister’s speech is seen by as many delegates on big screen TVs than live because of the capacity of the main hall, though the atmosphere outside is often more participative as people are free to cheer or shout in the knowledge they will not disturb the speaker. Twenty minutes into this one though, things went a lot quieter than in previous years.
Everyone is interviewing everyone all the time . . . well for the first day or two anyway.
The fringe meetings are always a really good way of getting a deep briefing on a particular issue. They are usually sponsored and organized by individual NGOs, charities or companies and include MPs or Ministers as well as experts as speakers on the panels. But the really interesting part is the Q&A which can be very lively. Given that the media are also present, many good stories are broken. This one was on London 2012 and the panel from left to right was Tessa Jowell, Minister for the Olympics and London, Sebastian Coe, Chair of London Olympic Organising Committee (LOCOG), David Higgins, Chief Executive of the Olympic Delivery Organisation (ODA) and Jonathan Edwards.
MP4 (a band of four MPs – – – geddit – – – from all parties) were the highlight of the second evening.
Going into conference means running the gauntlet of leafleting single issue campaigners. This year these included two polar bears.
Conference goers in my experience are not exactly fitness freaks . . . . and at Bournemouth they can take this little train up the 100 yards of the hill from the Conference Centre to the main Hotel. Legs saved, but at the price of waistlines and dignity I would suggest.
Will this be the last time we see the word ‘New’ on a Labour Party conference stage?
[tags] Labour Party Conference [/tags]