A bluffer’s guide to the party conferences
TUC – Emboldened by the hard left control over the Labour Party coupled with an enfeebled and divided Tory Party, the ‘bruvvers’ are back to type demanding an eye watering 5% pay rise for the public sector and happily endorsing the right to illegal strikes. Maggie must be spinning in her grave.
Lib Dems – It was a sad affair: an emasculated Party, a poorly attended conference and a delusional St Vince of Twickers (aged 104) who limply tried to claim he was a future PM. It will be a slow grind back to relevance for the sandal wearers.
Labour – After Corby’s historic election win (aka a loss equal to Gordon Brown’s in 2010), the socialists are on the march. Hard left control of the NEC, hard left changes to the leadership election rules, the moderates all dead or hiding, promises to nationalise PFI debt and pretty much everything else, and a veritable magic money forest required to pay for it all. There were some property specific items of interest:
Shadow Housing SoS John Healey and Shadow Housing Minister Melanie Onn are working on detailed policies to "flesh out" manifesto housing promises.
Former Shadow Planning Minister Roberta Blackman-Woods is chairing an internal Labour Party commission on planning and will look at over-stretched planning teams, probably calling for planning departments to set their own fees.
Proposals to tax undeveloped land held by developers and talk of powers to CPO it (as the state is so much better at development that the private sector we presume?).
Onn said the party would reform CPO and allow councils to buy land at closer to its existing value before planning.
Much populist rhetoric about “regeneration for the benefit of the local people, not private developers, not property speculators”, with residents on estates getting "a home on the same site and the same terms as before". Suggestions that councils considering estate regeneration "will have to win a ballot of existing tenants and leaseholders before any redevelopment scheme can take place".
Housing and planning powers to be built into "proper devolution deals", tailored for different parts of the country with suggestions that Labour would limit how much would be devolved from Whitehall.
UKIP – UKIP announced, with a blaze of publicity, another total unknown as their fourth leader in 18 months. Who would put money on there not being a fifth before two years is out? Other than that, the rest of their conference was utterly forgettable and completely unreported. They are now of almost no relevance and will just stumble on in eternal decline with occasional crises to keep the media entertained.
Conservatives – All that anyone will remember is ‘that speech’. We were all willing it to end and we’re still having nightmares about it now. Mr Bean could not have scripted more of a disaster. The Maybot stumbles on in her political purgatory only because no one else credible wants her job right now, preferring her to take the Brexit heat so that one of them can swan in after the most damaging Brexit pain has passed. Having just about made it through conference season, with lots of plotting and one failed putsch behind her, she might not make it to Christmas or she might be safe until 2019, as long as she doesn’t have any more disasters. The European Council meetings on 19-20 October and 14-15 December as well as the Budget on 22 November will be the next big tests; she can’t afford a ‘pasty tax’ moment.
But long-term she’s toast and one gets the impression she might actually be rather relieved when someone flips her out of the toaster. Trevor Kavanagh in The Sun last week articulated what everyone knows: “Theresa May is a vacancy waiting to happen.”
Of course the endless Boris psychodrama continued. However, it’s clear he has diminished his appeal amongst Tory MPs with his antics but obviously not amongst the party faithful where he’s somewhat restored his popularity after his 2016 leadership election misfire. However, as an unnamed cabinet minister pointed out: “People who aspire to lead the Conservatives always forget who the audience is. It's not the membership; it's their colleagues in Parliament. If you said to backbenchers let's have a leadership election in the autumn, they would be horrified.” And the botched Grant Shapps coup only goes to prove that point.
SNP – They are diminished. The paradox of power is that after 10 years of decisions, everything can be blamed on you – see Scottish education and health. So they are becoming increasingly unpopular and were the butt of all the political gags at August’s Edinburgh Festival. Indyref2 keeps being promised, sabres rattled etc but in reality they have no idea when it could happen and it seems increasingly unlikely that they would get as close to winning as last time. Scottish public opinion and time has moved on. They hardly even mentioned their cherished dream at their conference. But they will keep looking for and seizing upon any grievance they can manufacture against the English, Westminster and Whitehall etc to keep their troops believing in the dream.
Greens – It happened. Somewhere. Who knows? Who cares?