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Party conferences preview

Source: PSE Aug/Sept 2018

After a politically rocky few months, PSE’s Jack Donnelly tells us what to expect at this year’s trio of major party conferences, taking place across the months of September and October.


The Conservatives will hold their 2018 annual conference this year at the ICC in Birmingham. From 30 September to 3 October, the Tories will play host to delegates after a politically tumultuous year, with cabinet ministers resigning over Britain’s departure from the European Union which, by the time Theresa May takes to the stage in Birmingham, will be just six months away.

From James Brokenshire’s standpoint, the housing, communities and local government secretary will be trying to work with local leaders who are calling for a consultation on post-Brexit regional funding. Following a damning Public Accounts Committee  report in June claiming government departments “do not have sufficient understanding” of what skills UK businesses need when Britain leaves the EU next year, the Conservatives will need to convince council chiefs of a strong and stable future for local communities in 2019 and beyond.

Other pressing issues include the local government secretary’s wrangle with the UK’s housing landscape; the nation’s “broken” property market was placed as a top priority by the government at the LGA Conference in early July, and will be sure to a be a key talking point for when Tory ministers take to the stage this autumn.

The Conservative’s newfound digital advance – headlined by a £7.5m digital council fund to take digital innovation from the “basement to the boardroom” – will be another important area for the hosts to re-energise party followers who may have been disenfranchised by the Tories’ disappointing year.

Health and social care, as ever, will be high on the agenda for the event. May’s announcement of an extra £20bn a year for the NHS in June was a welcomed development for health chiefs, yet some have voiced their concerns over a lack of funding for social care. Jeremy Hunt’s revelation that he didn’t envision any of the settlement cash going to social care did little to answer back to voters’ worries. Matt Hancock – who has taken over Hunt’s job after the latter’s stint as longest-serving health secretary – will look forward to working with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, since they both read from the same hymnbook in their visions of a digital future.


For Labour, Jeremy Corbyn and co. will take the trip up to the north west in Liverpool on 22 September. Council leaders were left furious in June when reports emerged of Labour proposing to change party rules which would allow members to choose leaders of local Labour council groups, snatching the power to nominate the leader away from the groups themselves. Shadow local government secretary Andrew Gwynne will be looking to target key talking points including housing, devolution, and health and social care.

For the rest of the national party, the effervescent issue of Brexit is bound to rear its ugly head once again – Corbyn’s recent outbursts against issues such as Brexit’s impact on the import of controversial furs is just a taster of some of the topics due to be discussed at the ACC in Merseyside. The Opposition’s internal fracas over allegations of anti-Semitism will hang over the conference; Labour leaders will be fervent in their condemnation of discrimination against the Jewish population, an issue that heavily impacted the party’s aspirations in local government elections in May when Labour failed to take targeted seats from Tory control (such as Barnet) due to the allegations.

Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats will take their talents to the sunny seaside at the Brighton Centre from 15-18 September. Party leader Sir Vince Cable and former leader Tim Farron will be anxious to repair relations with their pro-Remain voter base following their calamitous mishap of failing to turn up to a Commons vote on vital Brexit customs proposals which passed by just three votes. After reports surfaced from national media in late June that senior Lib Dems plotted to unseat Cable in an attempt to replace him with Oxford West and Abingdon MP Layla Moran, the party will be attempting to feverishly promote stability in their ranks in hopes of winning over anti-Brexit voters. The party will be keen on building on May’s local government election, which saw largely positive results, including the regaining of control of the London Borough of Richmond over from the Conservatives.

The three conferences over the autumn period will provide major opportunities for politicians to reaffirm, realign, and recreate their image to an electorate largely disenfranchised by the ongoing Brexit debate and the spate of resignations from May’s cabinet. With Britain’s departure from the EU just half-a-year away from the conference season, the events could be one of the last chances parties have to show their worthiness to the British public.


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