The conference season may be over for another year, but the party gatherings will continue to influence the political landscape in the coming months and in the run up to the 2015 general election. Impact asked student activists from the three main political parties on campus to give us their thoughts.
LIBERAL DEMOCRATS | 14-18 September, Glasgow
For many Lib Dem members, there was a feeling that September’s conference was a turning point. Granted, we’re still slumping in the polls. Regardless of that, there’s at last a renewed sense of optimism in the Party that’s been missing for some time.
Several policy announcements were made during the conference, including the introduction of a compulsory plastic bag charge and free school meals for all Primary School children under the age of 7. With the backing of the leadership, members debated and voted against a return to the Kennedy-era policy of creating a 50p tax rate, and we were reminded of our commitment to the Human Rights Act and the European Union – both of which our coalition partners have questioned repeatedly over the last twelve months.
Whilst each one of these policies alone may not be headline-grabbers, their significance to the Party internally shouldn’t be understated: we’re re-establishing what we stand for. The purpose of Nick Clegg’s speech was to remind us of our liberal values and our shared goals in politics. Giving all children the best possible start in life, strengthening our economy, promoting internationalism and protecting the environment and our civil liberties; all were at the forefront of his message.
Judging by the reactions of my fellow members, in this he was remarkably successful. There’s now a fresh determination to create the fairer society we have always fought for, and the necessary unity required to help us win that on-going fight. For the first time since the 2010 general election, we’re a Party that’s looking solely to the future, not to the past.
LABOUR | 22-25 September, Brighton
No one quite knew what to expect from the penultimate Labour party conference before the re-election of a fixed term Parliament that is set for 2015. It was a huge unexpected political gamble for Ed Miliband to lay down policies so far ahead of a general election, but many party members had found themselves calling for his head in the build-up to the conference, this year held in Brighton.
It has been a topsy turvy year for the Labour leader, with his controversial tactic of playing politics with a humanitarian issue such as Syria topping off a year of declining ratings in opinion polls, strained relationships with trade unions and the populist rise of UKIP. Ed had his conference speech dress rehearsal at the TUC conference in Bournemouth in the weeks leading up to party conference. It is certain that his commitment to redressing Labour’s relationship with the unions raised the mood of party members, especially those on the progressive right who had the memories of the vote on Syria fresh in their memories.
When it came to Ed’s speech, he spoke clearly and passionately on the issues that he believes will help working families if Labour wins a majority in 2015. Immediately after he announced that Labour would legislate to freeze energy prices until 2017, he was labelled ‘anti-business’ by political opponents. However, the day after the announcement, three of the big six energy companies came out offering customers the opportunity to freeze their energy bills until 2017. Clearly the energy sector at the very least is serious about the prospect of Labour majority in 2015.
One fringe event that excited members nationwide was the ‘London after Boris’ debate hosted by Demos. Hailed as the first unofficial London Mayor Candidate hustings in the run up to elections in 2016, the event featured speakers such as Shadow Justice Secretary and Minister for London Sadiq Kahn, former Higher Education Minister and current MP for Tottenham David Lammy and peer Andrew Adonis; all widely tipped to be Labour’s candidate in 2016.
Labour enjoyed a successful, largely scandal free conference when you compare it to those of the Conservatives, UKIP and the largely dull Liberal Democrat conference. Ed delivered an excellent speech which simply could not be matched by even David Cameron, who nervously name checked Labour over a dozen times and spoke in to the camera at times instead of addressing Conservative members.
Members on both sides of the party will leave Brighton full of optimism and even more confident about winning a Labour majority in 2015.
Bart Williams (@Bart_Williams)
CONSERVATIVES | 30 September-2 October, Manchester
In a city that boasts culture, architecture, excellent nightlife and home to some of the UK’s biggest media giants, the North West’s metropolitan hub that is Manchester was the perfect backdrop for the 2013 Conservative Party conference. The Conservatives were clearly there with a purpose. With an atmosphere that possessed a distinctly higher level of formality and tautness, conference resembled the days when Lady Thatcher ruled this annual ritual with an iron fist and the resolve to match. The abundance of Union Flags and royal-blue banners bearing just a few of the Party’s achievements since entering office in 2010 drew a sense of pride and patriotism that appears so familiar from images taken during Margaret Thatcher’s premiership.
All that was missing was a Cabinet sitting in formation behind David Cameron while he delivered his resounding closing speech. The emotive video tribute to the Iron Lady, which opened this year’s conference, couldn’t have been more fitting and certainly set the tone.
George Osborne delivered what many have called his best speech yet, announcing several new policies such as the Government’s ‘Help to Work’ scheme where the long-term unemployed will be required to do something in return for their welfare, meaning “no-one will get something for nothing”. A suitable policy for this year’s slogan, ‘For Hardworking People’.
You shouldn’t let Osborne’s awkward exterior distort your presumptions of the man. I was fortunate enough to attend a fringe event hosted by Channel 4’s Gary Gibbon, where the Chancellor’s true personality was brought into view. Thankfully, I can say that even my opinion of him underwent reform. Some may find it hard to believe, and understandably so, but Osborne came across as a genuinely thoughtful man with a passion for what he’s doing and the determination to do what he believes to be right for the country.
Unfortunately Boris Johnson appeared to have lost his sparkle, delivering possibly one of his worst speeches to date. It may only be a matter of time until his rambling yet hilariously witty style receives much needed polishing. If he does have ambitions to join his colleagues on the front benches of the Commons, then he’ll have to prove himself as a serious statesman.
Continuing the fairly celebratory tone of conference, it’s evident from our achievements to date that the Conservative Party is on the right track. In the words of William Hague, “and all that in a Coalition. Just think what we could accomplish on our own.”
Alex Bright (@alexanderbright)