Hurrah for the end of conference season. It’s not been the most impressive, or most motivating Conference season for any of the three main parties. For each, Conference was a chance to wrap themselves in a comfort blanket of re-assurance, a brief occlusion from scepticism and doubt, a place where secret fears could be ignored, at least for a little while.
For the Lib Dems, there was the cheering belief that the Public would soon come to recognise the great self sacrifice they had made in forming a government that ran counter to what they had stood for when asking for support.
That there seemed to be little or no evidence to support this belief failed to prevent it being presented as a near-inevitable development.
The Lib Dems seemed to hold fast to the belief that their reward would surely come in the electoral hereafter, even though the voters who they need to attract show almost no sign at all of being impressed by the comeback narrative they crafted.
There is an electoral strategy available for the Lib Dems to attract new support. But it involves confirming and passionately advocating their real position as Britain’s second centre-right party and attracting the voters that David Cameron’s suprising irresolution prevents him from sweeping up. I doubt that this would be attractive to a majority of their party.
For Labour, there were two comforting delusions. The first was that the British people would soon surely recognise that we had been right all along on the economy and come to trust us again with its handling, just so long as we kept repeating that this was the case. The second, which emerged mostly after the conference, was that asserting general platitudes and moral verities as somehow especially Labour values was “setting the political agenda” rather than issuing banalities that almost anyone could assent to (and promptly did).
Perhaps even more significantly, Labour decided that it would be best to downplay what we would do if elected (Reduce Deficit, Pay down debt, Not Put up Taxes) in favour of stressing again the great things we would have done if we had not been wholly rejected at the last election, while emphasising the, bold, dashing (and vague) change we would offer in the future.
For the Conservatives, and for my money worst of all, there was a retreat from the reality of what they were doing, in favour of the assertion of what they want to be thought of as doing.
The Prime Minister and Chancellor told us that they want growth now, when in fact they seek a purging. They asserted optimism, and enthusiasm, and energy, as if the act of saying these things made them a policy.
It would, I felt, have been better if the Conservatives had embraced the misery and gloom of the economy. If they had said “Yes, we are hurting you. Yes, we are turning down the easy path to growth. We are doing this because we believe it will work, not this year, not even next, but if five, or ten, or twenty years. You may resent us now. We know many do and we understand. We may not win the next election. But we hope to have done a great service by the time you next decide on us.”
At least this would have had the benefit of being true to their governing strategy, if not optimistic, energetic and diffused with sunlight.
All three parties felt like they chose to hide from the realities of their electoral or governing predicaments this month. I don’t like the idea of a “disconnect” between politicians and the country, because politicians are always and everywhere disconnected from the country, and this is not a huge problem. This time, however, I expect that many will look at all three Parties, and wonder if this is the extent of their economic and political response to the various crises facing Britain.
This was a season of platitudes and rhetorical banalities. I fear that perhaps this was because the answers for all the parties are dark and difficult and in their own ways, unpopular.
We live in hard times. Perhaps we should address that, not hide from them among our own certainties and securities?