Conference Thoughts Part 1
The Conference season normally provides the first real taste of politics in action each school year. As the parties gather at their respective venues for their annual bout of soul-searching and exhibitionism, we get the chance to analyse their policies and their leaders, not to mention take the temperature of the parties themselves and try to find out once more just what makes them tick. And this year they were, in a way, historic conferences. Two of the parties had their new leaders addressing them for the first time, and one had their old leader addressing them for the last time, so what conclusions might we draw this year?
Well, the Liberals started us off with Ming’s big chance to shine and, er, he didn’t. Having been under fire virtually since his election as leader for being hesitant, unexciting and unsure of himself, this was his chance to regain some mastery. After all, he may not be very good at dominating the House of Commons, but at least he should be able to dominate his own Liberal supporters at their own conference. Alas, no. In his first appearance, an awkward looking simulation of a rather cut price chat show, Sir Ming sat with Guardian journalist Michael White to answer questions that White would have been ashamed to put forward in any other context. This is when he came up with his classic line that the Liberals, under his leadership, were on the way up, not least because of their fantastic by-election victory in Bromley and Chislehurst. Which, woe, was of course a not very fantastic Tory victory! But worse was to follow when ex-leader, and on the road to being reformed alcoholic, Charlie Kennedy appeared to the party faithful. He really did inspire them. For all his faults, Chat Show Charlie showed how it should be done, with genuine enthusiasm greeting his appearance on stage. He even managed to snub Sir Ming by not shaking hands with him – obviously still harbouring a few grievances about the Merciless One’s role in his own removal as leader.
At least Ming did achieve some success in turning Liberal policy around – he removed the commitment to higher direct taxes that has been a mainstay of Liberal campaigns for years – and made it more like that of the other two parties. A real achievement, that!