Momentarily, England’s Agora is empty. In turn, the political parties have filled it with their clamorous reels and strutted (or in Ming’s case, shuffled) their stuff before their adoring claques, attended by great phalanxes of Oracles, Haruspices, Augurs, Shamans and political journalists come to say sooth. Only the rhythmic swish, swish of cleaning brooms remains.

I always find it difficult to read the entrails whilst the process of conferences is actually taking place. There is far too great a danger of not being able to see the wood for the trees whilst you travel through the forest and it is best to wait until you emerge on the far side, blinking in the sunlight, before one rushes to judgement as to the nature of one’s journey through.

To some extent these gatherings have become less important than they were of yore. Once Conferences held the prospect of real political theatre as leaders fought their own supporters (usually the Labour Party whose leadership used routinely to be mugged by the Unions or the left at such events) to secure their position of authority over their party. Or one might hope for something like Tories in 1963 as candidates jostled noisily in the arena like Roman Gladiators as they fought out the contest for leadership. Now the Thought Police have gotten control of these things and real political drama has, by and large, been excised. One only has to think of the elderly gent who so threatened Il Duce Blair’s position (or rather, the speech of one of his more sinister henchmen, Jack Straw, who was at that moment lying for a living) a few years ago that he had to be hustled out by a bunch of thuggish latter-day Blackshirt types.

All three main political parties choreograph these assemblies nowadays. We have the ritual ‘keynote speech’ (an awful Americanism that I remember BBC journalists suddenly importing twenty odd years ago at the time of a US Primary Election season, evidence that the BBC’s hatred for things American is not all-pervasive) from the Leader and a whole series of pas-de-deux, tangos, waltzes, reels, square dances and sword dances (the latter being when some tricky politician gyrates on tippytoes over some especially contentious policy that the Party does not love) as the party lays out the four day PowerPoint Presentation of its programme for office.

Of the three this year, the dullest by far was that of Labour. There was a rather musty smell to the Socialists’ offering this year, as if someone had opened a large clothes chest that had remained unopened since the 1970s and had had something damp left there when last closed. I am thinking principally of Gordon Brown whose lumpen speech seemed to have an Old Pathé newsreel quality to it. This should be no surprise to us for Gordon Brown was always the ‘Old’ Labour to Vanity Blair’s ‘New’ Labour, the latter having been, as we now understand only too well, a temporary construct cobbled together to suit the overweening ambition and lust for power of its progenitor and his ghastly spouse. I have never bought into the idea that Labour had changed its spots. It remains at heart a Socialist party that believes the only way to power is legally to steal people’s hard-earned money to be handed out to the feckless as electoral bribes, a corporatist, statist, collectivist, nanny-knows-best party that would regulate how citizens breathe if it had the competence to formulate the legislation. And Gordon Brown this time around sounded for all the world like one of the duller Labour politicians of the late 1960s.


This was the party conference of a party that is fast becoming sclerotic, fast running out of new ideas and new policies. There was too a sense of smug self-congratulatory preening about it by which, I suspect, many British people will be somewhat repelled, not just out of a sense of distaste for the playground swank but because, if the truth be known, they actually have precious little to be self-congratulatory about. The other problem for Brown is that, like his pernicious Budget speech this year, when it is subjected to even modest analysis it is found to be no more than an warmed-over rehash of his and, as often as not, other people’s ideas already in the public domain. It is this lack of freshness which may yet cause the British voter to choose another greengrocer this year.

I turn now to the Conservatives. With the way things have gone since the apparent Local Council advances in May, this year’s gathering had a distinct make-or-break feel to it. True, the choreography of which I have complained has been ever present, a feature which is actually self-defeating to some extent: I suspect the public actually prefers to see some sense of a debate taking place within a party rather than Tablets of Stone being brought down from Mount Sinai.

That said, I was left with a real sense that the events of the last three months and the sudden prospect of an election on the back of some disastrous polls had wrenched the gaze of most Conservatives from their navels to the horizon where they were suddenly forced to confront a vision of the awfulness of another four years of Brown and his Socialist ways. The sobering up process has been swift and comprehensive and I got the feeling for the first time since May of a party that had rediscovered its appetite for power.

As someone well-used to the perils and terrors of the off-the-cuff speech with few notes (they are actually often the best one does) to a Jury, I know only too well the possibilities of failure and pratfall that surround them. I reckon his was the best speech I have heard him do. No braggadocio for starters but a much more personal take on the world that will hopefully have impressed voters, if not so far as to agree with everything he does or says, then at least to the point of saying that he looks and sounds like a potential Prime Minister. From that point of view I found this to be an excellent speech that was engaging by its personal touch. I shall be surprised and not a little disappointed if this has not had a good effect on the polls.

Goodness knows I do not care for some of the things he has said and done and have over the summer been critical of the failure properly to oppose the Government. But on any given day I would have a Conservative government in power than a Labour one and with the distillation of policies into a practical manifesto that is rapidly taking place (especially of some of the more wacko Zac Goldsmith Cuckoos) that we can actually try and sell, I am today in better heart than I was last week.

There but remains a brief word on the Lib ‘Dems’. It is very hard now to recall anything which stood out from their Nut Cutlet Buffet: all bland stuff that did not trouble the digestive system over much. I do, however, have one distinct sensation, that of Ming Campbell’s thin, reedy, querulous voice. Age should of itself be no bar to high office. But age takes people differently, especially when they have, like Campbell, been through the rigours of serious illness in the form of cancer. Frankly he looks and sounds old and no matter how much cortisone was pumped into him, he remained just that. And, if there is no election now, they are still stuck with him come what may, until even 2010, for they now know that Brown will always contemplate a snap election, even if this time he did not have the guts to do it and they will not want to get caught in the middle of yet another political assassination just as Brown calls a snap election in June of next year or whenever. They may recover a bit as a campaign gives them free exposure, but the Tories must really have hopes of doing some serious damage to them in England at least. And if the Nats and Labour squeeze them in Scotland, this could be a very bleak outing over the sticks for the Lib ‘Dems’.

UKIP have their conference this weekend. They are not in good shape at the moment and Nigel Farage did not shine at all this morning on ‘Today’, sounding at his most downbeat. I think a lot of UKIP support will drain away this time as many are realistic enough to know that the only way of getting a Referendum on the EU Constitution is to have a Conservative Majority in the Commons and former supporters will opt to lend their vote this once to achieve that end. Best for them to keep their powder dry for the next EU elections where they have shown they can do well and, for the moment, the only forum where they can, frankly, hope to make an impact. But tactical voting is not unusual these days and it is the citizen’s vote to use as he or she deems most appropriate.

All in all, then, I have a better feeling than has been the case of late. Hopefully all who prefer a Conservative administration to a Socialist one will now put aside their reservations and, with the sort of discipline Labour showed in 1994-1997, oust this dishonourable Prime Minister.

Advertisements