Party conference season will be particularly revealing for the futures of the major parties

September brings the start of an intriguing and potentially explosive party conference season.

This year's conference season promises to be an entertaining ride, writes Mark Glover
This year's conference season promises to be an entertaining ride, writes Mark Glover
The Lib Dems kick it off in Bournemouth, where it will be interesting to see the reaction of rank and file members to new leader Vince Cable, who has previously failed to set hearts racing. 

But Bournemouth is merely an hors d’oeuvre, before the main course is served up in Brighton with the arrival of the Labour Party conference. 

After the better-than-expected performance of Jeremy Corbyn in the general election campaign, many Labour members will arrive in good spirits for what is one of the largest political gatherings in Europe.
How long that spirit will remain cordial and comradely will depend to a large extent on the approach taken by the leadership and, in particular, Corbyn’s supporters in the trade union Unite and the Momentum campaigning group. 

If Corbyn’s team feels it is strong enough in the Party for its activity at the conference to be focused on a series of strong messages and set-piece events to convey to the electorate that Labour is a party of government in waiting, I would imagine internal relations in the Party will remain calm, as the moderates will be happy to let Corbyn have his moment in the sun.

However, if the ‘hard left’ chooses to use its strength in the Party to push for even more power and a change in the rules around the reselection of MPs and the election of the leadership, then all hell could break loose. 

This would make the weekly sparring in the Commons pale in comparison with the open warfare in the conference hall, as two wings fight for control of a Labour Party that both claim belongs to them.

In such a febrile atmosphere, conference guests would be advised to give Labour space to address these issues and stick closely to the business fringe and planned set-piece corporate events, rather than venture into the unknown territory of Momentum-backed rallies and union-sponsored social events. 

What the conference means for the electability of Labour is questionable.  

A display of unity behind a credible policy stance will maintain the pressure on the minority Government.
Yet the appearance of a party at war with itself will only damage its electability, especially among voters in the towns and suburbs of England, where elections are won and lost, and radical socialist philosophy is an exotic, often ill-digested, dish.

While the Conservatives’ gathering in Manchester may not result in the fireworks that could ignite in Brighton, Theresa May faces her own problems in bringing together a party that is clinging to power, but contains sharply contrasting views on how to deliver Brexit. 

Will the conference darling, Boris Johnson, pass up the opportunity to stick the knife into his leader and demand a hard Brexit, or will Philip Hammond see his stock rise as the Party adopts a more business-first approach to Brexit?  

Perhaps a new face will emerge for the faithful to align behind.  Whatever the outcome, it promises to be an entertaining ride. 

Mark Glover is chief executive of Newington Communications

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