End of Conference season - Approaches, responses and analysis

Houses of Parliament

With the main political party conferences coming to an end, the media and public are left to respond, discuss and debate.

The Tories have been heavily criticised for their human rights plans while Labour are, even by its own party members, being scrutinised for being ‘too timid’. The Liberal Democrats faired a tad better, with a noticeable attack on their coalition partner and spectators responding positively to policy plans such as increasing mental health spending.

While each had the usual similarities, each party took a slightly different approach. The response to the leaders’ speeches reflects their approaches and can foreshadow how the political sphere might look in May.

Following the Tory party conference we discovered, amongst other things, their desire to lessen the power of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR); how their proposed welfare policy would mean a benefits freeze; and their intention to raise the 40p tax band by 2020. Much of the scrutiny that followed was negative; a reflection on their approach which saw them appeal to the typical right wing voter while the rest of us were left to criticise. Nevertheless their approach was to be admired as their position was clearly affirmed and their vision for the future was open for such scrutiny by the press and the public. The approach taken by Mr Cameron was the right one and came at the right time for his party as it appears to be centred towards reaching out to current Tory voters, potentially convincing those are disillusioned and considering voting for UKIP.

The Liberal Democrats adopted an odd approach to the conference. In amongst the clear policy outlines there was a real sense that Clegg, at times, was too intent on distinguishing his party from the Tories rather than singularly refining their vision for the future. Inevitably they had to try to distance themselves from their coalition partners but continuous references attacking Tory policy only provided people with the fuel to attack the party in relation to their previous record of supporting harsh Tory policies such as the welfare ‘bedroom tax’ policy and then their subsequent U-turns. Clegg has received wide support, however, for his policy relating to mental health and aspect of the Lib Dems approach may strike accord with the public – the party did appear to have cogent policies that affect many people and are often taboo subjects. While this mixed approach wasn't ideal, I feel it could either be a success or not be enough to shake off the negative connotations relating to the Lib Dem party since the coalition began.

The first thing to note on the Labour party conference is Miliband’s insistence on addressing the conference using the word ‘friends’. That trick gets old real quick. Miliband’s speech was littered with people he had met and what people had told him about the state of the nation, reinforcing his attempts to appear as a regular guy who is in touch with the public. In theory such an approach would work considering how frustrated the public can get with how distant politicians usually feel but in practice it didn’t quite have the desired effect. Miliband has come under scrutiny for not having policies appealing to core Labour voters and I think this is a credible critique and reflects Labour’s approach during the conference. He appeared to take a broader approach and spout out general policies rather than ones that would convince Labour voters to remain loyal.

The catastrophic mistake of not mentioning the deficit is one that attracted a tsunami of criticism across the political spectrum. I strongly doubt Labour has done enough during the conference to convince much of the public to vote for them and Miliband’s pitiful approach and significant mistakes could be a huge factor in May.

Perhaps I have overplayed the role these conferences play in convincing the public about who to vote for but of one thing I am certain, the conferences have implanted ideas and perspectives into people’s minds as to the state of each of the main parties and I believe this will have repercussions.