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Conference season: Who came out on top?

Hannah Boyle covers all the developments from party conference season

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For all political geeks, students and those who are invested in the internal workings of our political parties, the party conference season offers an insight into the world of decision making and political popularity. With the return of in person conferences for the first time since 2019, the past month of political point scoring was one to watch.

A new start for the Liberal Democrats?

While it may have passed you by, the Liberal Democrats started the conference season off.  Having come into the position of leader in 2019, working only in a pandemic period so far, all eyes were on the new leader Ed Davey to see the new direction centrist politics may take.

After their election success in the June by-election in Chesham and Amersham, Davey pledged to help tear down the ‘blue wall’, pledging to be the force to remove the Conservative majority from the commons. Is this possible when the party is experiencing a 27 percent decrease (Evening Standard) in membership and the last election saw their own leader ousted?

Davey certainly tried to appeal to the masses, openly stating his opposition to the now scrapped ‘vaccine passports’, as well as supporting calls for Coronavirus legislation to be repealed. Now, with both these pledges made true by the current Conservative government, where is Davey trying to position the party?

Is the destruction of the blue wall to come through the construction of a new coalition era style Liberal Democrats? Perhaps in appealing to those in the blue wall, and those alienated by the current Labour leadership, Davey is attempting to revive the classical style of Nick Clegg: appeal to the masses and use any influence to prop up a minority government and attempt to water down their policies.

While this may not be the direction of Davey's plans for the future, it certainly feels like he is positioning for a new phase of politics in which everything and anything is on the table.

Success for Starmer?

Having come to power in April 2020, this was the first chance Starmer had to make an impression within his shadow cabinet. A leader who has been frustrated by the U-turns, alleged cronyism and slow actions of the current government, the 2021 conference was his stage to make an appeal to the electorate.

A lengthy and characteristically detailed speech, Starmer dominated the Wednesday conference session with pledges of police and justice overhaul, education changes and support for the NHS and welfare; he came out with long awaited policy pledges.

With controversy over the conduct of Starmer’s deputy, Angela Rayner, who refused to apologise for calling current Prime Minister Boris Johnson ‘scum’, this conference had all the make-or-break qualities needed for Starmer’s continuing leadership. Even with small hiccups - like Rayner’s divisive rhetoric and heckling from the conference floor, Starmer made an impression, even pledging to go back on party promises to gain the trust and the support of the electorate.

Is Starmer finally going to make a change from prioritising members to prioritising the public? Perhaps, and to some, hopefully.

Labour appears to be trying to open a new chapter in their leadership history and ready themselves for a fight in 2024, placing their trust in the electorate.

Conservative Conference: Flight or flounder?

With the Prime Minister making his conference address, and rising stars like Rishi Sunak taking to the stage, the Conservative Party conference had all the promise for new policies and development.

The conference started on shaky ground as Johnson was shown to be openly incorrect about ONS figures he quoted on live television. This was developing as videos circulated online of the Department of Work and Pensions Secretary, Thérèse Coffey, doing karaoke to Dirty Dancing hit ‘time of my life’. Whilst seemingly harmless, it coincided with over 5.8 million claimants of Universal Credit facing a cut of £20 a week to their payments with spiralling energy prices, rising inflation and increasing fuel prices.

Furthermore, according to The Guardian, only four Conservative delegates turned up to the Trussell Trust Conference Breakfast meeting to discuss the over-reliance on food banks evident across the country.

Johnson had a chance to push the success of the vaccine regime and rally the public, while  playing the age old card of blaming the poor economy on previous opposition administrations- instead he turned on governments he’d supported from the backbenches pledging to end “decades of drift and dither” and approach “problems that no government has had the guts to tackle before”.

Ultimately, as he ignores the issues facing the country today, did we witness the beginning of the end of Johnson's rule over the Conservative Party?

It is certainly true to say others have begun to emerge and stand out in his place. Sunak provided the charisma, natural ease and charm for a conference speech, while Liz Truss appears to be growing in public opinion. While Hancock appears to have been dropped from the list of favourites, it is only a matter of time before Sunak or Truss become front runners to overtake the incumbent leader in the potential post-pandemic boom.

Winners, losers or somewhere in between?

There were no winners of the conference season. With complications in every conference, and the newfound attempts to convince the electorate of partisan supremacy, each party made steps in setting their sights on the next election and the future of the U.K post-pandemic in hopes that their gambles will pay off.

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