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No one likes a party pooper but...
This Green and Strangely Pleasant Land - party politics
Phew. The party conference season has finally gurgled to an end and, so we are told, will be followed by the hard slog of putting into practice the florid pledges made while Labour, Conservative and all the other usual suspects were on the conference floor.
This assumption begs the question of whether any of these pledges are specific enough to warrant anything resembling hard slog. Moreover even asking the question suggests a fundamental misunderstanding of why these gatherings take place. They are often described as being agenda setting but are in fact little more than morale boosters/battlegrounds for internecine warfare among the faithful and sheer heaven for political nerds.
I used to be a regular attender at these jamborees both as a minor party functionary and later as a journalist. In those days conferences were confined to seaside towns, primarily Blackpool and Brighton, where participants were mostly housed in dismal accommodation alleviated but only marginally, by the provision of substantial breakfasts capable of hardening even the sturdiest of arteries.
As an antidote to these hardships there was the prospect of sex, tending to involve unlikely couplings and not within the scope of matrimony. Further details have been withheld on grounds of good taste and because no one really wants to know much more.
And then there were bars and the dazzling prospect of free booze dished out by the deluded band of hospitality givers who believed that their largesse would be rewarded by changes of policy.
However policy is rarely made at party conferences, at least this used to be the case. Naturally policy was much talked about as was something called issues. Hardened conference goers knew full well that this kind of earnestness was largely confined to fringe events where packed rooms of believers and a variety of odd looking men and women would gather to argue the finer points of ‘issues’.
On the left there was much referencing of sacred texts ranging from Marx to R.H.Tawney, who you won’t have heard off unless you are of certain age with an interest in the arcane byways of Christian Socialism. On the right, fringe meetings thrilled to repeated references to Winston Churchill or just Winston for the cognoscenti. Ultra believers were excited when the name Milton Freidman was mentioned conjuring up visions of the purest forms of capitalism.
Anyway the fringe served exactly the purpose its name suggests. It was out there, entertaining but hardly important among the party’s hard men and women.
In the old days some party leaders could stir the conference floor with their oratory. Think Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock for Labour, great speakers but stubbornly unelectable. The Tories had figures like Michael Heseltine, once much loved by the party faithful but bitterly mistrusted by the leadership and then, of course, there was Mr Churchill even though the reality was that his astonishing mastery of broadcasting rhetoric was rarely matched by his public speaking.
Nowadays the party faithful have to pretend to be stirred by Richie Sunak who always seems to be in danger of brandishing a PowerPoint presentation. On the other hand is Keir Starmer who might also be partial to the odd PowerPoint but would probably be just as happy settling down to a nice quiet game of dominos.
So, party conferences these days are largely deprived of stirring oratory. The dodgy sex which was a much discussed part of the proceedings has, apparently, been scaled down quite considerably and, horror of horrors, there is far less booze.
Some of this is down to the extraordinary development of politicos not drinking (yes, I know that’s hard to believe), partly because of wild rumours that excessive alcohol is not good for health and partly because conference folk, especially those crawling their way up the ladder, are increasingly aware of the need for good behaviour.
In place of the conference delights of yesteryear has been an unseemly dabbling in policy formulation. This was on vivid display at the Tory conference where the beleaguered Small Rich Fella found himself in a hole over cancelling the high speed railway to some godforsaken parts of the North and had to come up with a plan suggesting eternal devotion to that mysterious and distant land by rushing to the conference platform to announce a cornucopia of plans for mini transportation projects.
Unfortunately the fag packet on which these plans were formulated proved to be rather limited so he daringly detailed plans for things that had already been built, plus some that had been previously announced, plus an unlikely array of other plans which, like the ill fated HS2, will never materialize.
Labour, to be fair, announced very little indeed and was roundly scolded for not doing so but at least they stuck to the old rules of talking big and avoiding specifics. It’s the kind of thing that wins elections.
Idiot of the week
As ever we have the Daily Mail to thank for pulling readers back from the abyss of news domination by gloomy stuff like wars. In a seminal story marked ‘exclusive’ Britain’s largest selling newspaper reminded us that there are far more important things going on in the world : “Hollywood reputation expert says Jada Pinkett and Will Smith have DESTROYED their image with 'deluded' lies about their marriage - and warns sham has made them look 'self-absorbed' and 'out of touch'”.
Who knew there was such a thing as a reputation expert or indeed that the Pinkett-Smiths have been living apart since 2016. It’s an outrage and the public has a right to know.