Welcome to political pre-season

Conference voteBy Emma Burnell / @scarletstand

I hear Vince Cable and George Osborne have had a disagreement over banking. Oh and the Lib Dems might rebel over the health vote. Nick Clegg’s talking human rights all of a sudden, while the Tories are all about Broken Britain. Someone is leaking Shaun Woodward’s strategy memos.

Gosh, anyone would think conference season was about to start.

Conferences have primarily become a place where parties can showcase themselves to the nation through a series of set pieces. But in order for those set pieces to be more interesting than the conference around them, some red meat must be thrown to the activists. To ensure you have cheering not jeering (unless – like Labour in the 80s – it is the very image of that jeering that you are desperate for the public to see) you need to have relatively happy delegates. That means making announcements that will please the hall, and lead to plenty of standing ovations the camera can linger on.

But equally, you need to make announcements that will speak to the country more widely. It’s one of your few big chance to set out your stall and to be the salesman for the ideas and themes you hope will win you the next election.

Here are my predictions for some of the things that will happen during conference season this year:

1. There will be a big, fake fight between the Lib Dems and Tories. The Health and Social Care Bill will pass, but a few Lib Dems will be allowed to vote against it (though, as with tuition fees, not enough to make a difference). Vince Cable will make a good speech at conference denouncing plans to remove the 50p tax rate and promoting a mansion tax.

2. Osborne will announce a timetable for the removal of the 50p tax rate. It will be very popular in the hall and with newspaper columnists. This will be seen as a tactical win.

3. The Tories will get a bigger poll bump than Labour and will even go into the lead in the polls for a while. Labour’s Chicken-Licken brigade will not react well. This will probably run for a few months until the next chance Ed has to prove his mettle. This is not a make or break conference.

4. Ed will make a good speech putting a bit more meat on the bones of his responsibility agenda. But it won’t be a barnstormer. He needs someone to put a few more killer lines in his speeches that aren’t quite there yet. Everyone will find things in the speech to both agree and disagree with. Everyone on the internet and Twitter will focus on what they disagreed with.

5. There will be some embarrassment at every conference. At Labour’s it will be personnel based (someone will say something they shouldn’t about Ed or the leadership) at the Tories it will be an off-colour gag or reference to the riots. At the Lib Dems it will be because, after a summer of riots and economic crisis, their delegates will be focused on the really important issue: Conference accreditation.

For myself, I’m looking forward to conference as ever for what it really is: A great chance to network, a place to catch up with old friends, and – like a sci-fi convention for people in suits – a place to comfortably geek out among like-minded souls.

See you in Liverpool…

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