I know I don’t want to see another limp canapé or warm glass of wine for a good while - but with party conference season over for another year, what else is to be learnt from this year’s conferences?
Watching the party games
The headlines focused on leader’s speeches and MP defections, but, year after year, the fringe events and meetings over coffee or something stronger is where the real action happens. Just like in Parliament, where a rowdy 30 minutes of Prime Ministers questions takes the focus from the real graft going on in the committee rooms.
At all three of the main conferences, housing, and its close friend planning, were a big topic with dozens of events. Our fringe meetings, entitled Housing the nation: Greenfield or Brownfield, and held jointly with the Federation of Master Builders, were well attended; standing room only at two conferences and people being turned away at the door for the third. Lively debates with very real examples from the floor stoked the interest still further. The Westminster speaker at each event recognised the importance of the need for new houses and the importance of brownfield. But did the parties differentiate themselves significantly on these issues? To me, they didn’t. And this is where the opportunity lies.
Beyond our fringe, each of the parties actually did seem to be in listening mode, or at least more than they are at other times in the electoral cycle. Everyone had their eyes focused on May 2015. For my part I plied all I met with our new manifesto and its three main asks:
- the right housing in the right places
- the right infrastructure for the right reasons
- a beautiful countryside to sustain us all
The feel of each of the conferences confounded my expectations; Labour, were lacking passion and a can-do attitude. In contrast, the buzz at Conservative conference was palpable. The LibDems felt as tired and unfocused as the poor lobbyists and journalists who were facing their third weekend at a conference.
But what do the conferences tell us ahead of the general election? In my mind, it's all still to play for, both on the issues CPRE cares about and the shape of the next government. The by-election results in Heywood and Middleton and Clacton take the political temperature and let us see the potential impact of UKIP, but will they manage to take seats from both the left and right come May? What issues will be on the minds of voters by then?
Eight months out, there is no clear winner and the manifestoes are still a work in progress. Some parties seems desperate to both win and with a clear margin, thus avoiding another tricky coalition. Others recognise see an inevitability of coalition and are simply aiming to be part of it. Beyond the hubbub of conference, we need to show each of the parties that enough people care about an issue so that it will form part of the debate rhetoric and create real and positive change on housing and planning.
Find out more
View images from our events at the party conferences in our Flickr albums