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“What do we learn during party conference season in Britain?”
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“What do we learn during party conference season in Britain?”

In Britain, the party conference season sees politicians, ordinary party members and grassroots activists meet to discuss national policymaking in front of the national media. But, asks Sam Bayes, 29, a Commonwealth Correspondent from London, how useful are these carefully choreographed events?

It’s political party conference season here in the UK. This means that hundreds of political party animals get together in areas of the country that usually had an election result that was too close for comfort. It’s as if, by the flattery of bringing all the national media into one town, they think voters will remember their five minutes of fame in the next election and vote for those that made it happen.

These often week-long events take place at carefully ordained times, making sure that no two conferences ever coincide. This is obviously due to the press cycle. They are all so desperate to be the sole source of news that, every day, they provide what should be an “exciting” or “ground-breaking” revelation. Whether it is the environment and energy or the two most important issues of the day, the economy and welfare, parties design their speeches in close partnership with the media.

But what does this mean? When a political party has the nation’s attention for one whole week what do we learn? The short answer is nothing new.

The News International scandal has brought to international attention the power the media has in politics. They are forever present in the political sphere and for a long time have been pushing politicians to talk in absolute terms, with honest and clear statements. This is so they can prove that a politician is wrong, or naïve should the politician be mistaken. Hence the old Whitehall joke, “Ask an MP the colour of the sky and he will assure you there’s a committee working on it.”

Politicians have to be vague, they are too afraid to be specific. So the “exciting” or “ground-breaking” revelations are often nothing but hot-air, dressed up in clever language and, sometimes genuine, passion and delivered to a room that is often waiting to be told when to applaud. The speakers are preaching to the choir.

Maybe I am too cynical, maybe by the end of the season I will feel that quality of debate and clarity of position are back in politics. Maybe they really are tackling bigger problems than how to eat finger food off a plate whilst still holding a wine glass.

In any event, as I write this the Liberal Democrats have hangovers, Labour are just getting back into the swing of things and the Conservatives are preparing to let what is left of their hair down. Maybe that’s as informative as these conferences are likely to get.

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About me:

“I live and work in London, managing the membership team of the International Bar Association and its Human Rights Institute. The IBA is the largest membership association for lawyers that practice international law and the IBAHRI is a charity whose mandate is to protect the rights of lawyers and the independence of the judiciary.

“I’m currently doing a part-time MA in Social Science and am a proud Liberal Democrat Party member. I also enjoy writing, swimming, sailing and the cultural wonder that is my nation’s capital.”

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?

To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/commonwealthcorrespondents/

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