I may have rose tinted glasses, but party conferences used to be pretty buoyant affairs. Predictable, but buoyant. The Tory Conference would see the party leaders throwing the grassroots some red meat on crime and tax breaks. Labour promised to squeeze the rich and splurge on social programs. The Lib Dems, God bless ‘em, would convince themselves that they would be different.
Nowadays it all seems rather bland, a little bit…beige.
Where are the big ideas? Where are the fire and brimstone speeches? Where are the bold visions?
The Lib Dems got us kicked off with what was, in effect, a three day long apology from Clegg. Rather than point out Lib Dem successes in the Coalition (I’d have struggled with that one too) the overriding message was that it would be worse if the Tories were let loose on their own.
Whether or not there’s any truth to that, it’s hardly going to set the world alight.
The AV failed by a huge margin, House of Lords Reform failed, and tuition fees rose. The Lib Dems don’t have much to crow about.
For the Lib Dems it’s especially hard. The General Election in 2015 looms on the horizon like a nightmare. Having spent the last two years as a lightening rod for anger towards the Coalition, the party is bracing itself for a punishing set of results. One particularly dire YouGov poll estimated the Lib Dems could go down to ten MP’s.
Labour have always a dilemma at their annual conference. They need to convince the public that they are responsible and moderate enough to be given the keys to power, but they also need to keep the Union Barons sweet. For Ed Miliband it’s an especially tough balance at the moment. The voting public still blame Labour for many of the country’s economic woes, so a spot of financial prudence is needed. Yet the unions, and the Public Sector unions in particular, are seething at the Coalition and pressing the Labour leadership to promise a flood of State spending the second they gain power.
Miliband’s solution? Simple; don’t talk about policies and you won’t upset anyone. Instead we got a vague notion of One Nation. I’m pretty sure every Prime Minister since Walpole has used that phrase at some point, and it’s a phrase in which people can interpret what they want.
In political terms, it’s filler. Something to tide you over until you come up with an actual idea.
The Tories weren’t much better. With the party still wedded to the Coalition, the fire-breathing Thatcherites were bundled off into a fringe meeting somewhere, while the Centrists were, erm, front and centre. Chancellor George Osborne even tried to praise the Coalition, and was met with some very luke warm applause. Even Boris, the much hoped for saviour of the Tory Right, was keen to play down leadership rumours, and praised ‘Compassionate Conservatism’. Theresa May, the Home Secretary, even went so far as to remind those present that they were a conservative party, not a libertarian one, much to the glee of UKIP who’ve been hovering up disillusioned young right wingers at a growing rate.
Europe, which so tortured the Tories in the 1990’s was barely touched on. Only welfare got the blue blood pumping, with promises to cut a further £10 billion from the budget and review housing benefit. That is, of course, if the Lib Dems sign off on it.