Wednesday, October 03, 2007

End of Season Review

Empty Podium
All over, including the shouting...for now
I've been working at home quite a lot recently so I've had the dubious pleasure of being able to catch a lot of the conference season. It's not that that I'm that much of a political anorak, but when the other option was the "make me rich from crap in the attic with cooking stars in their own eyes" stuff that passes as 'quality' daytime broadcasting on the main channels, there really was no contest.

Probably the last time I caught anything other than news highlights of the conferences was when I was a student, so I have to be honest and say the style of all of the major party conferences was quite a surprise, albeit, in general a pleasant one, when my abiding memory was still one of cliff-face platforms with the seating positions of dour-faced front-benchers in their massed ranks at the cliff top being the main subject of debate amongst the commentators.

I'm not really going to be able to avoid a personal bias entirely, but for me these were the highlights and lowlights, the hero's and villains of the few weeks:

Best Moment (Liberal Democrat)
The succession of speakers from the floor, setting out principled arguments against the surveillance society and the ridiculous 'nothing to hide, nothing to fear' arguments from those who would give away their entire liberty and they grandparents too for a little illusory safety.

Best Moment (Labour)
Dennis Skinner chuntering away to himself during Quentin Davies speech inviting other Conservatives to abandon their principles for a little personal gain and join him in the Supreme Leader's big tent of all the talentless. I must learn to lip read before next year.

A nicer one? There is something about Harriet Harman's delivery that I can't help liking even though much of what she says drives me up the wall.

Best Moment (Conservative)
This is a tough call for me with so many good front bench performances. For me Liam Fox just about edged his boss, Duncan-Smith, Hague and Letwin. I still think he would have been a pretty disastrous leader for the party, but the passion on a subject that he clearly cares so much shone through and I actually found myself warming to him for the first time.

Leaders Keynote Speeches

Cameron - 8/10
Very solid and impressive delivery. I'm not sure about winding up on the National Citizen Service, as I still can't quite envisage sixteen year olds buying into the concept. Perhaps I was hoping for a bit more of a barnstorming performance towards the end, but the personal note played pretty well.

Campbell - 7/10
As I explained in another post I still think Ming could have done better, but solid nonetheless.

Brown - 4*/10
Average and not especially inspiring even before it emerged that the good bits were the work of somebody else.

* Brown deducted two points for plagiarism

Slickest Presentation
I have to go for the Liberal Democrats for this one. The other parties made impressive efforts but they pulled off a couple of cock-ups to blot their copybook. Labour needed someone better qualified to operate a 'kill' switch for the microphone at times and the amount of procedural nonsense that seemed only to be able to be dealt with from the chair was excessive. The Conservatives had widely reported sound problems of the opposite variety to kick off proceedings and didn't always segue always that well between a series of start acts.

Best Non-Party Contribution
This is probably the least fair call of all as timing-wise I missed, I understand, the best efforts at the Lib Dems' and Labour conferences. I was though impressed (and ashamed not to be able to remember his name) by the bloke at the Conservative's conference who ran some kind of mentoring project in Liverpool. His delivery might have woken a few elderly delegates from their slumbers, but it was full of passion, personal commitment and common sense, and it says much for what Cameron has done that his Conservative party can engage with people like this.

Feel Good Moment
I might have enjoyed Liam Fox's speech more but the enthusiastic reception acclaim for Iain Duncan-Smith's performance represented a well deserved rehabilitation of a decent man in the eyes of a once harshly judgmental party. In some ways his contribution may actually have been of greater value at a party level as he was preaching to the not uniformly converted.

Best Blog Coverage
No individual awards here, but I'll go for some the main Labour Bloggers overall, though I will also admit that it may be because of some of those less comfortable with the party line.

The Lib Dem contributions were well written, but just a bit too loyal and predictable for my taste.

The Conservative bloggers, Guido apart, were entertaining, but perhaps a bit too much tittle-tattle focused at times. This isn't much of a criticism as I know I'd be exactly the same if I ever went to an event like that. Iain Dale did much better from the platform, with quite a moving speech on Rwanda, even if it will be better remembered for his introduction as a 'foremost political blagger'.

Winners and Losers
Probably for me it has to be Ming, as the consequences of a bad performance could have been very swift and very serious. I actually think David Cameron had a better speech and his party a better conference, but I was never convinced that the immediate threat to him was as bad as some of the press made it out to be, and the chance of a sub-par performance causing fallout was much lower.

Gordon Brown for all his opinion poll lead has to be the loser of the conference season looked at in microcosm, especially after he compounded his problems over his speech with a political stunt that seems to have left a bad taste in the mouths of friend and foe alike.

I'm sure Brown wants to beat Blair in every respect, but I think he would rather that the fact that this includes outdoing him in spin and dishonesty is something he would prefer was kept a little more quiet.

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