First up, our lot. As usual, the press marched on us, expecting a revolt. Wanting to be there as Vince made his big move. As usual, nothing much really happened on that front. A few more grumbles about Nick than last year, that was all. The biggest complaint I have about my time in Brighton was the weather (particularly the gale force winds), always a good sign.
The overriding feeling at Labour conference was one of complacency. Apparently, 2015 is in the bag, folks. Despite the fact that behind the scenes, away from the speeches, no one in the party thinks all that much of Ed Miliband. The Progress types are still pining for David. The Fabian folks think Ed’s “okay, not great”. Blue Labour are begrudgingly holding their noses for now. The unions thought he was their man but he’s been a disappointment to them thus far. But no one thinks this will stop the Labour machine now inevitably rolling into Number 10 come May 2015.
I should mention that the obsession with Nick Clegg remains as strong as ever within the Labour party. It was often easy to forget what a fringe you were attending was actually supposed to be about after a backbench MP would use their five-minute warm up slot to talk about how much he hates Nick in the most visceral terms imaginable and then sit back down again. It’s as if the Labour party is infected with Clegg Tourettes. What you didn’t hear a whole lot about in Manchester was either what policies the Labour party should be pursuing in 2015 – nor, oddly enough, the Conservative party.
Meanwhile, at Conservative party conference, the Tories seem both focused and hungry for victory. Within twenty-four hours of arriving in Birmingham, I’ll admit I started thinking of a Tory majority post-2015, a truly bone chilling thought. What really struck me was the volume of ideas on show – ideas that as a liberal I mostly found abhorrent, but well thought out and well articulated ideas nonetheless. By comparison, the Labour conference was intellectually arid, a schematic vacuum.
The only real problem for the Tories is, as ever, Europe. It is often stated in the media that Europe is the one thing that unites the Conservative party. Trust me, it isn’t. It remains an ever expanding problem for Cameron’s leadership.
But the biggest thing I got from going to all three conferences was this: there is a large, Lib Dem shaped space in British politics. The illiberalism on show at times at both Labour and Tory conferences was rather staggering. Whether it was the Glassman brigade talking about how we should roll back the clock to some sort of cosy socialist 1950’s where everyone did what they were told, or Phillip Blond and Jesse Norman discussing “post-liberalism”, I would not take the future of liberalism in this country for granted without the Lib Dems.
Question now is, how do we communicate that to everyone else who shares our concerns?