Don’t you love a good knees-up! So praise be for Britain’s party political conferences, a last tango of lunacy to end the Silly Season, before it’s back to hurling brickbats across the cockpit of parliament.
Frankly, what all the fuss is about always beats me. Still, I suppose it gives the rank and file – a.k.a. the poor, bloody infantry – a chance to sound off, hobnob with like-minded diehards and have a snap taken with their heroes (frankly, I’d rather be photo’d next Genghis Khan than thuggish Ed Balls, Labour’s Shadow Finance Minister).
Boring events perhaps, but never a disappointment to those, like me – and probably most of the apathetic public – whose opinion of politicians can be found in one word, scribbled on the back of a cigarette packet and placed under something Fido deposited by the nearest tree.
Nevertheless, you have to hand it to them. Nobody since the Borgias does charades of unity, parades of pretentiousness, not to say a teensy-weensy smidgeon of back-stabbing, quite like our elected representatives at their annual, tribal thrashes.
And I should know, because a tear of nostalgia wells up in the old eye when I recall party conferences I covered, particularly Labour shindigs at Blackpool in the 1970s.
We’d slip the barman of the Imperial Hotel a £5 note to deliver a crate of Moet to the service entrance, then get rat-legged on it at the end of Central Pier. Truly, a chorus of We’ll Keep The Red Flag Flying Here never sounded heartier than coming from a bunch of inebriated hacks, off their heads on vintage bubbly.
Meanwhile, in time-honoured tradition, the conflabs don’t vary: the leaderships preach to the converted and flag up what they pray will be headline-grabbing policies, few or any of which will ever fly (i.e. Liberal-Democrat leader, Nick Clegg’s pledge to axe student tuition fees).
For purely nepotistic gladness, these sideshows also keep my TV political correspondent mates in gainful employment. So the rain may cascade, but it doesn’t faze the BBC’s Nick Robinson’s one iota, as it ping-pongs off his bald pate, while Sky’s Adam Boulton looks on enviously.
In summary, then, it’s all a jolly good fiesta for the dwindling faithful, who leave reinvigorated, a crescendo of war-cries ringing in their ears…like then Liberal leader, David Steel’s immortal – if a tad premature – call, in 1981, to ‘go home and prepare for government.’
Pretty much the same message gushed forth from Clegg the other week in Glasgow, when he insisted coalition government was a fixture in the UK. This, he predicted, would be so even if Lib-Dem support was plummeting and now mainly reduced to woolly do-gooders, organic mangel-wurzel growers in the West Country and crusty Highland crofters, with unswerving fealty to any candidate sporting red hair.
With the bookies offering 13/8 on a hung UK General Election in 2015, Clegg might be right. There is no telling what damage Euro-sceptic UKIP can inflict on the Tories or what a ‘Yes’ vote for Scottish independence next year does to Labour’s Westminster seats north of Hadrian’s Wall.
But what Clegg was most at pains to do was put clear, yellow water between his party and the Tories. Indulging in further political harlotry, he even hinted Labour’s Milibandits might make better bedfellows in government than Squire Cameron’s lot, a fact rammed home by Vince Cable, who rekindled his Coalition partners’ old tag of ‘the nasty party’.
The sainted Business Secretary twisted the dagger, adding the Tories indulged in ‘dog-whistle politics’, hence my earlier allusion to Fido (though, frankly, I hadn’t a clue what the he was banging on about, but imagine it was an insult all the same).
Three hundred miles away in Brighton, Ed Miliband set out to be a barrel of laughs by lampooning his geeky image. And, though Labour loyalists found it a hoot, the act was hardly material for a telly satire show audition.
Predictably, he reverted to Red Ed type, parroting the old Left mantra of ‘bring back socialism’. Then – having already stolen the Tories ‘One Nation’ clothes, as fashioned by Disraeli – he invoked the wisdom of another hard-Rightist, Ronnie Reagan, by posing the late US President’s rhetorical query, ‘Am I better off now than I was five years ago?’
Speaking minus notes for an hour, Miliband’s gave a polished performance, even if it was littered with doctrinaire slogans, harking back to Labour’s glory days of Harold Wilson and Sunny Jim Callaghan, but notably bypassing mention of Tony Blair, even Gordon Brown.
However, to Red Ed’s credit, for the first time he appeared somewhat statesmanlike – anything less would be nigh on impossible – as he actually fleshed out some real policies (‘real’ being a relative word, since, if he ever comes to power, delivering on them maybe be a bridge too far to cross).
At least we now know two planks of any future Labour government platform: death to the contentious ‘Bedroom Tax’, the complexities of which I won’t inflict on non-Brits, and a 20-month freeze on energy prices.
The latter is designed to resonate with Middle England – ‘Conservatory Buyers’, who’ve now replaced Worcester Woman and Mondeo Man as the pollsters’ label for target voters.
This threat of statist intervention, however, immediately spooked the energy sector, multi-national conglomerates, who could easily switch priorities to expanding their portfolios elsewhere, leaving Britain quite literally powerless.
Undoubtedly, energy prices are high – they are throughout most of Europe – largely due to Russian and Middle Eastern suppliers shamelessly rigging the wholesale market.
Costs are also high due to carbon taxes imposed on consumers by Britain’s first Energy & Climate Change Minister…one Ed Miliband.
So what have the first, two party conferences told us?
The Lib-Dems will get into the sack with anyone offering them the pillow of a continued share of power – all in the noble cause of the ‘national interest’, of course – and it’s back to the future with Labour, once again red in tooth and claw.
So bring on the Tories, who kick off their frivolities in Manchester today.
Politicians, eh? You can’t live without them, but I bet you’d like to try.