Labour sneak victory in battle of the conferences

Bill Clinton told the Labour Party Conference that he wished the Democrats had a similar annual event. I reckon that on balance the British Party managers agree a yearly jamboree is good for their cause.

The Tories have traditionally been the best at managing their conference for the simple reason that it has never been based on any democratic principles.

For years the Labour Party struggled to control rebellious rank-and-file delegates who made it impossible for Labour to present itself as a united party. The Liberals had problems with delegates passing 'barmy' motions on drugs and other social issues. In the eighties Labour strategists did not want an annual televised conference but have now become masters of the week-long party political broadcast by the seaside.

The consensus among the cynical Westminster hacks is that this year Labour had the best week. How could anyone else compete with the masterstroke of persuading Clinton to address the troops? You may loathe the man but no one could deny he has something so lacking in our politicians - charisma.

The booing and slow hand-clapping of a front bench Minister would in previous years have horrified the spin doctors, but not for Labour in Blackpool.

How could you accuse Labour of being control freaks when this sort of thing happens?

The Liberals had a good week too. They sensibly abandoned any idea about winning an election and talked about coming second. The Liberals have never recovered from David Steel's: 'Go back to your constituencies and prepare for Government'. Go back and prepare for opposition worked better for Charlie Kennedy, who has now even learned how to make a speech.

The same cannnot be said about Iain Duncan Smith. I was actually embarrassed listening to his effort and the one memorable line about being a quiet man simply won't work. The Tories are desperate for a dynamic leader who is recognised by the general public. Unfortunately the one man who could do the job - Michael Portillo - has ruled himself out.

Theresa May's excellent speech came five years too late and only forced people like Norman Tebbit to fight back. His speech to the fringe was cheered to the rafters, and briefings from spin doctors that he should be expelled backfired. The thing to do with people like Norman Tebbit is ignore them. No-one ever suggested that Tony Benn should be expelled from New Labour - he was ignored and just became irrelevant.

Despite all their problems the Tory conference could still be judged a success. The media concentrated on their new policies. They did at least look like a party that had thought about alternatives to Labour. The fact that aspirations for their conference were so low undoubtedly helped.

They may have started the week talking about John Major and Edwina Currie but this was soon forgotten in the hothouse atmosphere of conference.

The Tories too were the only party to innovate by changing the timing of their debates. The experiment may not have worked but at least it shows their strategists are thinking. It wouldn't surprise me if in the near future they move their conference to the weekend where the news bulletins are shorter but have higher ratings.

If the Tories do cut their conference then surely the others will follow.

It won't just be the hacks having to cover all of them who will be relieved.

The broadcasters may also take them more seriously and the public may begin to take more of an interest in what the parties have to say.

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