Conference season – plus ça change…

Party conference season is over, at last.

Monday marked the end of the SNP’s conference in Perth. It was hardly a game-changer. Salmond was policy-light, despite a good speech. Will the speech change politics? Only if the SNP manages to overturn the 2:1 opposition to Scottish independence. Unlikely, then.

But it was Labour and Miliband’s pledge to freeze energy prices for 20 months if elected in 2015 that made the spotlight. Yet the party is hiding from the fact that tinkering around the edges of the market can leave the oligarchs with just as much power – capital flight (or threats of it), vociferous press attacks, ramped up lobbying and anticipatory price increases all point the way to the real need – to renationalise our energy supply. That, of course, wasn’t on the cards, despite mass popular support.

But Miliband’s pledge, however insufficient it may be, has shifted the debate. The main parties been rudely awakened to the fact that 60% back the freeze. And it’s the Daily Mail, including its elusive editor Paul Dacre, that has come off worse in the battle after publishing its now-infamous ‘Man Who Hated Britain’ article. 72% of the public backed Miliband – and 57% of Mail readers thought their paper should apologise.

The Mail did no such thing of course, but the chain of events has solidified the leader’s press-slating reputation. Perhaps more interestingly, many of Ralph’s most famous tracts sold out in the following days. The Mail may have just revived socialism, more than Ed would ever want to himself (see his awkward ‘get-round-the-negotiating-table’ talk regarding recent strike action).

For the left, the Labour conference is unsettling. Many believe Miliband has taken a social democratic turn. He hasn’t. As Labour’s Michael Meacher pointed out, Ed newly reshuffled team shows his true inclinations, the shadow cabinet ‘now composed of 12 Blairites, 4 Brownites, plus 9 centrists, and 6 on the left or left-inclining.’ Out went Dianne Abbott, in went quasi-neoliberals like Tristram Hunt. The New Labour vanguard still comprises a majority. You can forget renationalising the Royal Mail and our crumbling rail system (despite the wishes of delegates and the public).

As for the Tory and Lib Dem conferences, Cameron put out a passionate defence of the boss class with his ‘profit is not a dirty word’ speech, while both Clegg’s ‘million jobs’ gambit, and Cameron’s pledge to remove benefits for under 25s – can only be enacted on after a general election. With the Lib Dems, that probably means never at all.

For Greens, conference season is more inspiring – votes actually count for a start. Did Green Party conference shift politics? Perhaps not monumentally. As a ‘UKIP of the left’ however, we may have forced Labour ever-so-slightly towards us (Caroline Lucas’ billboard ad could be responsible…). If so, there are serious implications for both parties. For the moment however, there remains a large divide between Labour and the Greens – from supporting renationalisation of the utilities to opposition to Trident (and, indeed, nuclear generally).

It may be too soon to call the result of conference season. But this year does feel different, not least with UKIP humiliated themselves, the upcoming Scottish referendum, and Miliband actually laying out some policy (however flawed it may be).

Above all though we must remember – politics is made not in keynote speeches but in action. Party leaders remain much better at the former.

Josiah Mortimer is a writer, activist and Politics student at the University of York.

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