It’s that time of year when the leaves start to fall, the geese head south and political parties decamp to a conference centre near you for a few days of back slapping with the party faithful. Along the way, the big guns will roll out the ideological road maps, while the smaller guns will hope to make their mark on stage and get noticed. At the end of the week everyone goes home having imbibed a little too much and eaten far too many pastry based hors d’oeuvres at various fringe events, but generally feeling upbeat about the party’s future.
This week, the Lib Dems have kicked off the season in ‘sunny Bournemouth’. No doubt plastic glasses of cheap vino are being raised all round because they can count themselves lucky that they didn’t end up as toast at the last general election. Of course there is a new leader in the form of Vince Cable to toast too. He got off to a great start with his claim to Andrew Marr that it was plausible he could be the next PM – which was inevitably pounced on by the media (but only in the PRs dreams).
Meanwhile his predecessor, Tim Farron, is in the uncomfortable position of having given it his best shot, failed and now struggling to find his place, which is probably why he tried to spin a vision of his time in charge as one that saved the Lib Dems from extinction thanks to his ‘tactics’. No doubt he has now made the FA short list for the vacant England manager’s role after next year’s World Cup.
Mr Cable and Mr Farron have very different styles of speaking. Mr Cable roots himself to the podium, speaks at an even pace and concentrates most of this body language into the waggle of his head. He rarely smiles. Mr Farron by contrast bubbles away with energy and passion, often abandoning the podium to bound around the stage (much like his Spaniel no doubt). The difference in the stage presentation style between the two is eerily reminiscent to the generational contrast between father and son puppeteer team Harry and Matthew Corbett… even though Sooty stayed the same.
The Conservative Party will be hitting Manchester in the first week of October and this is inevitably the most eagerly anticipated conference in the diary this season. As the party who were returned for another five years in power in June, this should be a triumphant occasion. For most of us tuning in though it will be all about whether the Tories can limit the pile up to the A roads or have it spill across six lanes of motorway at rush hour with the involvement of a treacle truck and a lorry carrying feathers.
No, the jubilation will be coming to Brighton in the last week of September and expect a humdinger as the grass roots rally and descend on a city which is sympathetic to the cause and oozes the sort of funkiness that mirrors Labour’s youth led rejuvenation. Last year, Jeremy Corbyn was hanging on by his fingernails. This year he is the all conquering hero who will no doubt be serenaded with chants of ‘Oh Jer-emy Cor-byn’ wherever he goes… even though he lost the election.
What happens on stage tends to be a show for the faithful, as already mentioned, the party conference is also about throwing down markers. We thought we were entering uncertain political waters at conference season in 2016 and just look what the last year has brought! So an interesting couple of weeks ahead and let us see, at the end of it, if the collective political sense of direction for the country’s future becomes any clearer…
Luan de Burgh
Luan de Burgh is a speaker, writer and founder of de Burgh Training – a specialist business communication training provider dedicated to helping people perform at their highest potential.