Its conference season about now, or at least towards the end of it. Now call me naive but I thought that political party conferences where were the rank and file members met to discuss and debate the partys policy positions for the coming year. The Tory toffs count up the cash donated by the fat cats at the Bullingdon club and work out how many babies theyre going to sacrifice in the coming year and what things to name after Thatcher, the Labour party work out which carols theyll sing at her funeral (ding-dong the witch is ) and how to make Ed “I can’t believe he’s not his brother” Miliband electable, the SNP dither on whether to put Frankie Boyle on the notes after independence or just change the name of the currency to real fucking money, etc.
But no, this last conference season, at its something admittedly thats been building for years now, seems to be an odd mix of Stalinism and dumb American cheerleading razzmatazz. The rank and file party members show up and over the course of a week they are lectured too in carefully stage managed speeches what policies have been decided on by the politburo for the party to follow (often by spin doctors using focus groups) weeks or months beforehand. The only thing the rank and file members are expected to do is clap politely and above all else, dont go off message. Because if they do the media start jumping up and down in Nick Clegg/Milband is out of touch frenzy.
The point of political conferences is for discussion and debate about upcoming policies. Thats how good policies get separated out from bad ones and a political party works out and defines what exactly it stands for. As I pointed out in the run up to the last election what put me off voting Lib dem or labour was that I didn’t know what they stood for anymore. The Scottish wings of both of these parties have become a sort of political “black box” which puts me off voting for either of them. This is why political debate, by rank and file party members, needs to be at the centre of party conferences not at the fringes (or absent altogether). We dont want to turn the UK into a US style political circus, although youd probably struggle to tell the difference today between the GOP or Democrat Conventions and UK party conferences.