Party Conferences. What a bunch of toss.

Loz Kaye's picture

I've just been watching Nigel Farage do his party conference speech, railing against the Westminster establishment. As well as announcing they are welcoming in another MP from the Westminster establishment. For all that Nigel's "People's Army" pretend to be the plucky outsiders, their party bash is just another addition to the snoozefest that is party conference season. It's a kind of panto version of the main parties' events, but imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

In Manchester, where I live, we have to put up with the Spad invasion every year now, as the Tories and Labour switch turns. Not even the council seem to be able to tell the two apart; in the past they have put out exactly the same press release about the current party conference for two years running, just changing the name of the party.  The feeling of dogged indifference in the city this year was palpable. The Manchester Evening News's Jennifer Williams summed up the mood on Twitter. "Trying to write column on Labour conference. Trying to resist urge to just write 'awful' 400 times".

The weeks of dreary spin, the politics insiders trying to climb the greasy pole, the pointless fringe events where tiny groups meet to preach to the converted, the meaningless protests which are ignored by the delegates are all the things I hate most about politics. I don't think I am alone in this. It is all about broadcasting, not real discussion or debate. It's precisely the opposite of what will enthuse a wider public and make them feel their voice matters, that it's worthwhile voting.

Speaking from experience, at our party conferences the real value is for the people attending to get to know each other, bond a bit and recharge energy for the work and campaigns ahead. There's no real need to inflict that on the wider public, but at the risk of sounding like Farage, you're all welcome to come down the pub with me. When we had our first party conference I think it was more than anything because that's "what you are supposed to do". I like doing speeches, but I feel absolutely zero desire to copy what Miliband, Bennett or Clegg do. 

We already directly involve members and the wider public. Our policy process involved thousands of people. Compare that to the LibDems who get each year to decide what new policies they can ignore in government. 

We have just met up in the National Executive and had a frank discussion about the previous experience of our conferences. It was fantastic to meet up with other Pirates, we've had some great debates, and memorable moments like Scrub Club Records' Madhatter doing a keynote speech. But in terms of costs and organisation it is simply a bad use of our resources to try and ape the big party events - and it is the opposite of who we are. We'll do a more informal event to get people together at the beginning of next year at our new party office venue, and hold smaller informal events and debates that are useful and really engaging.

Otherwise we risk running into the same mistake - becoming the very establishment we want to shake up.