It is party conference season in the UK, with the Labour Party currently enjoying their moment in the spotlight. It is times like these that I envy the Americans, who only have to endure the spectacle of their preferred political party’s most gung-ho, swivel-eyed or greasily ambitious apparatchiks getting together to engage in collective groupthink once every four years, unlike us Brits who are treated to these traveling roadshows each year.
And as usual, we have had our fair share of silliness.
The Liberal Democrat party conference was largely dominated by the news that Sarah Teather, the current government children’s minister (because apparently that is a separate role that we need?) is throwing her toys out of the pram and standing down as an MP at the 2015 general election because the LibDems are not sufficiently like the Labour party for her liking. In a similar vein, much of the remaining press coverage was driven by continual speculation about Nick Clegg’s leadership, and Tim Farron’s (the Liberal Democrat’s party president) evident desire to serve in coalition with Labour rather than the Conservatives, and quite possibly to shack up with Ed Miliband and take romantic mini-breaks together as well.
UKIP were hoping for a successful conference to build favourable press in the long run-up to the European Parliamentary elections, where they are expected to do very well and challenge for first place. However, they came a cropper when one of their MEPs hit a journalist and made an inappropriate “slut” joke, all in view of television cameras and witnesses. This is a typical example of the pointless distraction – the actions of a silly activist then overshadow anything substantive that may have been discussed or decided at conference. UKIP’s leader, Nigel Farage, did his frank and inimitable best to salvage some small gain from the smoking wreck and lift the morale of his troops, but the damage was already done.
Now we are enduring the Labour party conference, another exercise in denial as to the reasons for their 2010 general election loss and their persistent unpopularity throughout the country. Of course, no Labour conference is complete without the proposal for several new and entirely redundant laws. This time, in the wake of the horrific terrorist murder of British soldier Drummer Lee Rigby, Labour are proposing making it a specific crime to attack a member of the armed forces. Because, of course, at the moment anyone could do that and walk away entirely untouched by the criminal justice system. So we have the typical frenetic, pointless legislating that we have come to know and love from the Labour party.
As of press time we can only speculate as to the joys that await us at the Conservative party conference, but as a conservative voter I am filled with my usual apprehension that we will see more moves to make the Tories indistinguishable from Labour, and the unceasing need to try to “outnice” their main electoral rivals by embracing universal benefits for rich and poor alike whilst continuing to clobber the rich with onerous tax rates. If Osborne and Cameron manage to articulate even one original policy that stands a snowball’s chance in hell of shrinking the state and increasing personal freedom, I will not only be delighted but I will eat my hat.
So, in conference season 2013 we have a party in denial about why they were booted out of government and remain widely distrusted, a party in the midst of severe post-wedding remorse pining for the other woman that it didn’t marry, a party whose manifesto and policy announcements were entirely upstaged by an ornery old man unfamiliar with the workings of television and a party calling themselves the Conservatives but who seem to have accidentally picked up the Labour party governing playbook by mistake.
It must be groundhog day.