Political Promise

Coalition Conference Call

In Charles Maggs on September 19, 2010 at 2:46 pm

The conference season is here! Charles Maggs offers the low-down on what to expect.

The conference season is finally upon us where traditionally the political elite gather in the late summer season to give fledgling British coastal towns a welcome end of season boost. This year’s conferences are somewhat different. Not only the fact that in the never-ending quest for modernity of appearances all three major parties have now dumped the coast for the cool Britannia of the regenerated metropolises, but of course it is the first time the party’s leadership will be courting the faithful whilst a coalition is running the show for 80 years.

Lib Dem constitution

The Lib Dem Constitution in Words: Image by nilexuk via Flickr

The will be no ‘coalition conference’, as the Lib Dems are first out of the blocks when they gather in Liverpool this week. Given their now pivotal role in the stability of British government it will be the first time many commentators will take what the great socks and sandals brigade have to say seriously since the Lib Dem alliance came into being. As Andrew Neil put it at the start at the summer; “It promises to be a fascinating Liberal Democrat conference…I bet you never thought you’d hear me say that!”

Key moments promise of course to include the leader’s speech, taking place pretty early in the conference on Monday afternoon where Clegg will be seeking to maintain party and consequently coalition unity for the week and beyond. Vince Cable will be closing affairs with his speech on Wednesday afternoon, which will promise to be a rousing affair if his popularity is as high with the party membership now that he actually has tough decisions to make, rather that as smug onlooker whilst in opposition.

Other notable moments could come from Deputy Leader Simon Hughes’ speech and on the emergency trident debate. Hughes has been a cautious critic of aspects of the coalition to date and many members who feel weary about the depth of the cuts may look to him to echo those concerns or they might view their fears as being swept under the carpet. The trident debate is a major area where cracks could appear in the coalition, given the Tories clear support for it (although seemingly less clear about how to pay for it) and the Lib Dems vintage CND credentials. Liberal Democrat conferences have in the past seen consensus on policy built and then often confirmed though a party vote. A more pragmatic approach might be insisted on by the party hierarchy on this occasion to avoid any explosive results (pardon the pun).

Labour are second up on the 26th in Manchester, the day after a certain Mr Miliband is announced the new leader. The only thing at this stage that is inevitable about the Labour conference is that there will be a slight boost in the polls in the immediacy after, although I wouldn’t be surprised given Labours finances (yes they bankrupted themselves not only the country) that there will be a fair amount of cuddling up to the unions.

Rounding up the season will be the Conservative who gather in Birmingham. They will I’m sure be hoping that the Lib Dems faith in the coalition will have been restored and that ‘red’ Ed Miliband will have been elected Labour leader. This would mean that Cameron can declare Labours lurching to the left to lick its wound in opposition and well and truly claim the holy grail of catch all party politics, the centre ground.   

There will be no Conservatives at the Lib Dems conference proper (and visa versa) but there will be some at fringe events. This conference season will however show how close to the fringes of the coalition many of the Lib Dems left and Tories right really are.    


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