Party conference season: what's on the agenda?

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Party conference season: what's on the agenda?


You’d think that MPs wouldn’t be so brazen as to take a break from Parliament only 2 weeks after they returned from a month-long summer holiday. But, you’ll be pleased to know, this is the time when MPs venture beyond the M25 and engage with their dear party members at each of the party conferences.

It’s here that some party policy is decided and political punches are pulled. But more importantly for most, it is where canapes are consumed, beer is imbibed and MPs and journalists get mortifyingly jolly.

This year’s conferences are set to be full of controversial speeches, party positions contested and maybe even a call for a leadership election… or two. So what’s coming up and what should you look for?

Liberal Democrat Conference, 15th – 17th September, Brighton

Understandably, the Lib Dem’s 8 MPs are finding it a little tricky to whip up as much of a frenzy about their conference than the other main parties. Sensibly, last week the Party’s leader, Vince Cable, announced that non-MPs will be able to stand for leadership positions at the conference in an attempt to broaden the appeal of the party and bring in a new raft of talent.

One thing to note is that Gina Miller, the anti-Brexit campaigner who lodged the successful case that meant Parliament had a say in triggering Article 50, spoke on Saturday evening. Some were hoping she would announce her intentions to run for parliament or Lib Dem leadership but, alas, they were only given the assurances that she was ‘a friend of the party’.

Labour Party Conference, 23rd – 26th September, Liverpool

One thing’s for sure about the Labour conference: it will continue to be dogged by the anti-Semitism scandal as the party has been for the past several months. MPs and members who have a grievance with the Labour party’s current stance will have an opportunity to air their differences. No-doubt Jeremy Corbyn’s and other leadership speeches will be about party unity.

Another controversy lies in the procedural issues around candidate selection. Currently, some MPs who have been in place for many years are being deselected by their local Labour party groups in favour of pro-Corbyn candidates. This has proven controversial as long-time Labour moderates feel as though they are being pushed out a party they have served for a number of years. Corbyn supporters consider them to be obstructing the mandate given to them by the Labour membership.

Of course, the Labour Party’s stance on Brexit will be examined. Labour is a bit better at giving their members a chance to voice their opinions, so you can expect some weird and wonderful ideas being brought to the floor. One group announced that, if they were not satisfied with Labour’s Brexit policy, they’d lodge a motion to change Labour policy to include a second referendum. Given that Labour has announced their intention to (probably) vote down the government’s Brexit deal, this may keep these particular dogs at bay.

Conservative Party Conference, 30th September – 3rd October, Birmingham

Last year’s conference was only remembered for the speech Theresa May attempted to deliver with a visibly debilitating cough, during which a comedian got to the stage and handed her a P45 form, all the while the stage dismantled itself behind her.

Well, this year she may be praying that something worse might plague her and prevent her from attending at all. The Tory party is, after all, split three ways and she has the truly unenviable (and probably impossible) job of pulling the factions together.

While she and her cabinet allies will be able to hold the agenda in the main conference, it is the fringe events at which the name throwing and challenges will come. One can be assured both Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg will be greeted by hundreds of adoring fans who think the two hard Brexiteers can do a better job of leading the country. There, they will be given a platform to say pretty much whatever they want and be greeted with the support

Similarly, more moderate conservative remainers like Anna Soubry, Ken Clarke and Nick Bowles will speak to audiences that, under Cameron’s era, held the power in the party. They have the potential to scupper the Brexit deal if they decide that they’d rather side with Labour and vote against the final deal, for whatever reason.

Sufficed to say, Theresa May will have to give a, dare I say it, strong and stable speech to hold the narrative of the conference and fend off any rousing challenges to her authority.

SNP Conference, 7th – 9th October, Glasgow

North of the border, the SNP are riding high on the news that they are now the UK’s second largest party by membership, having overtaken the Conservatives this summer. This comes at a time when polling numbers that suggest more Scots would rather be part of the EU than the UK. There will be no prizes for guessing that the SNP conference will have the air of preparing for a second Scottish independence referendum, even if the SNP don’t plan to propose one in the near future.

It is important for the base that the SNP think that a vote is just around the corner. As with Brexiteers, they don’t want any undue delay in the process. Nonetheless, initiating a second referendum is risky business. The SNP can’t get it wrong a second time.

It’s likely that keynote speakers will ask supporters to see what the final outcome of Brexit is before they propose a second referendum, yet you can be assured they will reaffirm their commitment to a second independence referendum… at some point.

That’s not the only second referendum that may be talked about. The SNP say they will do whatever to have as close a relationship as possible with the EU. This likely means they will support a ‘people’s vote’ on the final deal, though whether this grows legs is unclear.

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