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Mike Temple’s Blog

THE SILLY (CONFERENCE) SEASON APPROACHES

06-09-2008

Tory conference planning

Mike Temple muses on the replacement of the summer-break ‘silly season’ with the just as silly autumn political party conference season.

The silly season used to be the name journalists gave to that summer hiatus when our politicians disappeared to the grouse moors or for photo-opportunities at British holiday resorts before jetting off to sunnier climes. (Are you listening, Mr Cameron?) Light and fluffy stories supposedly replaced serious news for the duration of the hols.

The term could now be more accurately applied to the forthcoming party conference season. At one time, these affairs actually influenced party policy and delegates were potentially powerful players. Now, conferences – focussed almost exclusively on the leader – are just another part of the process of packaging politicians. They’re aimed at the masses, but are really a variety show for the chattering classes.

But that does not mean they are not vitally important. In the States, they have long been telly-fests and Sarah Palin’s knock-out performance this week (aimed squarely at television viewers) has revitalised McCain’s lacklustre campaign.

Similarly, Cameron’s brilliant turn last year galvanised his supporters – and for the first time hinted to disinterested observers that his party actually had a chance of forming the next government.

There’s little doubt that he’s capable of another effective performance this year and with masses of marginals in the West Midlands, holding your conference in Birmingham has to be a good idea. But this time he must deliver substance as well as style. To coin another cliché – where’s the beef?

Just a slice of brisket with a dollop of 'Bisto' would be welcome ...

The other two have a much bigger ask. They have to compete with, in Brown’s case unpopularity, and for the other one, um, er, you know, thingy, blairy, currant bunnyish – well, anonymity.

Our wounded (perhaps fatally) prime minister is fighting for his political life.

The Blairites are showing no mercy and his own supporters (notably Alistair Darling) are busily distancing themselves. Labour activists I speak to suggest he’ll be gone by Christmas – they want him replaced now. Their dilemma? Who’s the alternative? Polls suggest Miliband would do no better. And three identikit party leaders would highlight the vacuity of our politics.

Liberal Democrats are now regretting the day they chose ‘wotsisname’ as their leader. Chasing the youth vote is not a good strategy. One party member wailed to me, “it should have been Cable” and with the ‘Grey Vote’ now crucial, Cable’s intelligence and humour would have been ample compensation for his lack of hair.

But every show has a novelty act and for once they’re first on the bill (I miss the Tiller Girls). UKIP are up first and they’re immediately followed in the Bournemouth International Centre by the ‘legendary Cornish comic’ Jethro. Who’ll get the bigger laughs?

Any thoughts on the political shenanigans ahead of us, particularly the Brum-based Tory Bonanza? Share your thought on the Stirrer Forum.

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