Party conference season seems to come round faster every year and I'm writing this on my way to Glasgow for the first of the three main political party conferences this year.
It’s likely to be an interesting year – less than two years out from the next election, it’s this year that manifesto discussions can have most impact as by September 2014 the parties will be hoping to be announcing manifestos rather than devising them.
So what can we expect? Many are expecting the Lib Dems to be relatively quiet, with articles in Public Affairs magazine suggesting that Glasgow has ‘put off’ some people from attending. The Liberal Democrats themselves tend to be passionate and very interested in policy, however, so I’d expect it to be a lively discussion of a whole range of issues, not least the party’s economic strategy. Nick Clegg is already pushing the message that ‘it is better because we’re in coalition’; if he leaves Glasgow having convinced most of his party that it’s better to be in power and influencing than shouting from the sidelines, he’ll have had a good conference.
Labour in Brighton will be interesting too; a fascinating analysis from a public affairs company showed that it’s the most introspective of the three conferences with more events about its future. I’d expect at least a couple of policy announcements to help counter the ongoing criticisms that Labour lacks specific policies that can show the electorate what they stand for less than two years before the election. Ed Miliband goes into conference still needing to prove himself to many sceptics, despite making what was widely accepted to be a very strong speech last year. ‘Living standards’ seems likely to be the theme that he’ll focus on to try to attack the Government, change the conversation and set the tone for the next two years.
Finally the Conservative party conference in Manchester will be interesting to see whether the increasingly positive data about the economy has an equally positive effect on the moods of party members. I’d expect some of the speeches to address the ‘living standards’ issue to try to counter the Labour argument that recovery is only for the select few. Party unity is likely to be an issue too; it will be interesting to see how much rifts within the party are exposed and discussed. From a Centre for Cities perspective, it will also be interesting to see how much the Conservatives are seeking to target seats in the Midlands and North as well as the South.
More from each conference!
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