Thank God that’s out of the way – summer, I mean; mind you, it’s not as neat and concise as that; these seasons have a habit of overlapping. It may be September 1, but England are playing Pakistan at Headingley, and the schools won’t reopen for business until next week. The party conference season will serve as a prologue to Parliament’s resumption, and that officially starts tomorrow with the Greens. UKIP and the Lib Dems will follow, though these initial get-togethers are not unlike the opening rounds of the League Cup, wherein lower division clubs battle it out before the arrival of the big guns from the Premier League. Decrepit Victorian halls in rundown seaside towns were always the traditional locations for such events, though it’s now more common to hold them in major cities, with their slick and somewhat sterile conference centres reflecting the rise of the professional politician.
As they kick-off the season, both the Greens and UKIP are looking for new leaders, with Natalie ‘Brain-fade’ Bennett (sorry, I have a cold) and Nigel ‘Donald Trump’s my mate’ Farage having fallen on their respective swords; and neither party appears to have a suitably inspiring candidate on hand to supersede them. The Liberal Democrats are next on the circuit, but as the much-discussed imaginary alliance with disgruntled anti-Corbyn Labour MPs has yet to progress beyond the optimist’s drawing board, their Brighton shindig probably won’t attract much attention. If anything, the TUC Congress – taking place between UKIP and the Lib Dems – will perhaps provoke more headlines than the first three party conferences, what with most unions buoyed by the rise of the Corbynistas. When it comes to the actual parties, the Labour and Tory bashes will prove more intriguing.
By the time Labour decamp to the stubborn socialist heartland of Liverpool, Jeremy Corbyn will undoubtedly have been re-elected Labour leader and the party’s ownership by the far left will be complete. Back in the days before specialist Parliamentary TV channels, when your average viewer couldn’t opt out because the party conferences used to take up hours of empty telly time during the day on BBC2, the Labour conference in particular could often provide unlikely entertainment. Between the speeches of the suited and booted MPs, shabbily-clad amateur orators took to the podium and occasionally used the word ‘comrades’ when addressing the multitudes swathed in swirling pipe and cigarette smoke. Bearing in mind the way Labour are going in Corbyn’s capable hands, I have a feeling this year’s conference may well revive that neglected tradition bar the tobacco, which used to give those old conferences the look and feel of a mid-70s Rick Wakeman gig drenched in dry ice, albeit without sequinned cloaks.
The fact that this year’s Labour conference is scheduled to begin the day after the announcement as to whether Jezza or Owen ‘Welsh like Bevan, not Kinnock’ Smith has won the leadership should make it worth watching, if only to see how the split affects events. Household names could well be in short supply, though not necessarily down to the Socialist Workers Party vibe. At one time, Cabinet Ministers who’d lost their seats would pen their memoirs and retire to the Lords; now they appear on ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ – though I wouldn’t have expected anything less from such an undignified clueless bruiser as Ed Balls.
Once Labour’s born-again lefty love-in has concluded, it’ll be the turn of the Tories – the nation’s eternal party of government and the first conference with Mrs May at the helm. The fact that the Conservatives recovered relatively quickly following the fallout of Brexit and Cameron’s hasty exit (leaving the clear-up of the wreckage he caused to his successor) doesn’t necessarily mean all is well in the blue corner. May has entrusted the task of wrestling the country free from its European ties to a trio of prominent Brexiteers who don’t apparently care much for each other, and amidst the good will usually exerted towards a new PM she will have to keep an eye on the recently-installed residents of the backbenches who owe their place there to her broom. It’ll be the first real chance the country and the party will have to see her in action now she’s had a little breathing space to get used to her promotion, having returned from the hiking holiday that provoked an especially puke-inducing article of fawning arse-licking in the pitiful excuse for ‘The Independent’ that now exists solely in cyberspace.
The final major party conference will be the SNP’s in a rather late mid-October. Fired-up by the Brexit decision Scotland didn’t vote for, Nicola Sturgeon will milk the indignation of her nation by reviving the subject of a second Independence Referendum whilst carefully not giving the impression it was exactly the result she wanted to exorcise the ghosts of 2014. This in turn will supply Theresa May with another constitutional headache on top of invoking Article 50 – if indeed it ever is invoked.
So, the Silly Season is drawing to a welcome close and the serious business of alternately rescuing and f**king up the country is back with our elected representatives. It may take some time before we know for sure how they’re managing with that unenviable task; but from the point of view of writing on the subject, I’ll be happy not to have to trawl for hours every day, fruitlessly searching for stories with substance, which basically constitutes my daily experience of the past couple of months.
© The Editor