I can’t remember who it was said that a week was a long time in politics, well I can assure you that after three weeks on the Party Conference road it seems like an eternity, not only because of the succession of meetings, fringe events, snack food, early starts and late nights, but also it’s amazing reflecting on the last three weeks what has fundamentally changed in the political landscape.
The Lib Dems met in Bournemouth and I have to say it was a fairly muted event, easy going, low security but somewhat reflected by the weather in being rather grey and overcast. EST had a really good and well attended fringe with Steve Webb on Developing Low Carbon Citizenship. There was lots of fringe enthusiasm generally, although my perspective would be that the environment was not so far up the agenda as in previous years with the Lib Dems. This I think was also reflected in the Green Standard, a review of the state of the Parties regarding the environment co-ordinated by Green Alliance. I thought Vince Cable made an excellent speech which somewhat over-shadowed that of his leader Nick Clegg, fully of good common sense, provocative where necessary, but as always with the Shadow Chancellor, difficult to avoid the thrust of his major arguments particularly around financial probity both personally and collectively.
A move onto Labour’s conference at Manchester, which unsurprisingly was a much higher profile affair, once again bringing the centre of Manchester to a complete standstill much to the annoyance of Mancuians I spoke to! I am not sure personally that re-directing the conference to Manchester has been quite a successful as the Party of the North had hoped, anyway, apart from the infamous 3am press conferences following the drinking and the occasional debate we ran a good couple of fringes ourselves, the highlight of which was one with the Environment Secretary of State Hilary Benn. However, I have to say that in many respects the minds of the delegates appeared to be elsewhere rather inward looking, again in weather terms cloudy, occasionally sunny but never any chance of full sunshine.
Finally, via a brief trip back to the office, to Birmingham and the Conservatives. I was fully expecting it to be a rather more gun ho affair than it turned out to be. George Osbourne, seriously serious, David Cameron, seriously statesman like, but the party literally was rather muted. Some welcome news on transport and aviation, a sign of some brave decision making perhaps but disappointment that no commitment is given to increasing the amount of Green Taxes, particularly around high emitting passenger vehicles. A lively couple of fringes, particularly one with Charles Hendry on the Renewables 2020 Action Plan which was launched at each conference by the Renewable Energy Association and the Royal Society of Arts where we have had some considerable input into contents. Go to www.thersa.org\energy2020 to view.
Charles Hendry the Shadow Energy spokesman was really on message with regard to energy efficiency and micro generation and surprisingly sceptical about large scale infrastructure projects so hope for the future! But again following a sunny start it began to drizzle. I only caught the text so the transcript and the highlights of Cameron’s speech, that was the one on the last day by the way, I think it set some sort of record speaking every day, but it was noticeable that with one exception the environment featured very little serving only as a back drop to re-enforce the context around poverty and community. I fear we have a job in the current climate in all partners that has got to get it back up, the Government and Oppositions agenda. Anyway here’s to better food, no alcohol and sound sleeping before getting back into the fray.