We Made the Boring, Not Boring: why the Political Party Conference is important

The Political Party Conference season is in full swing. What is this and why should you care?


What is the Party Conference?

Conservative Party Conference

If party conference is Glastonbury for politics, then the leader’s speech is the headline act.

Imagine it as a festival; the Glastonbury of politics.

At a festival, there are loads of bands, poets, theatre makers all vying for your attention. They want you to come to their gig, or support their cause. This is a little similar to a party conference.

Each year in party conference season politicians and party members get together to discuss what the party’s aims and values should be. Businesses and other groups send lobbyists, who attempt to influence the decisions and policies decided at conference.

Whatever you want to get out of party conference, odds are you can find it. There are prayer breakfasts, a running club and different lobbying groups trying to meet politicians. Luke James, parliamentary correspondent at the Morning Star, describes it as a “democratic festival whirlwind”.

“You’ve got people going here there and everywhere, and it’s not just in the conference centre – There’s literally dozens of fringe meetings every day starting at 7.30AM”.

Just don’t expect to see anyone raving. Ed Miliband we’re looking at you.


Tell me how it works?

Green Party Conference "Visual Minutes"

“Visual minutes” at the Green Party conference this spring

Each political party decides what to discuss in difference ways.

Labour has a National Policy Forum, made up of MPs, councillors and trade unions, which creates reports on various issues.

Some these are discussed at conference and go on to form Labour policy. However, party conference is not always where policy is made.

Luke James notes that in the past “a motion is passed at a Labour conference it doesn’t necessary mean it will become policy.” This is because they have very complex policy making process, as reported by the BBC.

When it comes to discussing policy the Green Party took a more artistic approach at their spring conference this year.

Members scrawled “visual minutes” of the issues being covered at conference onto a massive mural. Somehow we can’t imagine the Conservatives following suit. You never know though.


Why is the 2015 Party Conference Season important?

We’ve just had a general election – and the losers need to start planning for the next one.

Party Conference; JD from tv show Scrubs shrugging

Why do I care?

If party conference is Glastonbury for politics, then the leader’s speech is the headline act. The Labour Party and the Lib Dems have new leaders who have to quickly make their mark.

UKIP needs to assert itself as a dominant force before the upcoming EU referendum and the Green Party needs to make the most of its increase in membership.

In Scotland, the SNP needs to set the agenda for the Scottish Parliament elections next year, and many are talking about the possibility of a second Scottish independence referendum. Cor blimey.

Don’t forget the current government, the Conservatives. With a small majority David Cameron needs the backing of his entire party to push through new laws.

After some ham-fisted attacks online over the alleged #piggate scandal, he’ll want to move forward to more important matters – like Europe and the refugee crisis.


Yeah, I’m not a party member or anything – why should I care?

Party Conference: gif of Amy Poehler

Seriously, why?

Though solid policy decisions may not be set at conference, it is important for setting the tone for the various parties; especially important as we have two new leaders for the opposition parties.

Even if you’re not political, you’ll probably have an opinion about what the government and the opposition parties stand for. Therefore conference is really important for getting the party message across to potential voters.

Party Conference in a nutshell;

At a festival you can reinvent yourself. You can let your hair down, try new things and decide who you want to be. Similarly these political party conferences, at the start of a new parliament, are an opportunity for the party leaders to set the agenda for the next 5 years.

Just like a festival, party conference can be exciting and busy – but don’t expect all policy to be decided right this minute.


OK, you got me interested. What now?


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Parliament Seats Explained: Labour and SNP fight it out.

You’d hope the first day of a new parliament would be about getting down to business and a fresh start. However the most important decision seemed to be a Labour SNP fight over who got to sit at the front.

Parliament: How it works:

There are 650 MPs in Parliament; however there is only space in the chamber for 427 people to sit down. Which makes total sense.


People who don’t get a seat have to stand at the back of the chamber to listen to the debate.

To reserve a seat MPs put a prayer card with their name on the seat they wish to sit in. Each sitting of the house begins with prayers – MPs don’t have to attend, but use this opportunity to reserve their seat. A bit like claiming your sun lounger with a towel when on holiday.

Labour SNP Fight - the green benches of the House of Commons Chamber

Places are reserved on the bench by a prayer card with your name on it


The front benches on either side are reserved for the head honchos of the government, and the opposition – in this case the Conservatives and Labour. Long-serving members of parliament usually don’t have to get in early to reserve their seat – these are left empty for them out of respect.


How the SNP said “sack that” to convention:

The Labour SNP fight started when the SNP decided it wasn’t enough to take nearly all the parliamentary seats away from Labour in Scotland; they wanted to also take away their actual Parliamentary seats as well.

Hours ahead of the Parliamentary session SNP MPs took turns sitting in the seat of veteran Labour MP Dennis Skinner. Skinner has sat in that position since 1970, so the SNP trying to nick it was a bold move.


Labour SNP fight MP Dennis Skinner addresses the house

Creature of Habit: Dennis Skinner has sat in the same position since 1970


However when Mr. Skinner arrived to take his place, they moved and let him sit down. They really showed him.

Labour SNP fight - the SNP moved off pretty quick


Then nine SNP MPs sat directly behind the Labour front bench. These seats are usually occupied by Labour MPs. Incredible scenes.


Is this Labour SNP fight actually important?

The SNP say that they are the third largest party and therefore deserve a prominent position in parliament. Their argument is that before 2010 the Liberal Democrats (then the third largest party) were allowed that position.

Labour aren’t happy – if the SNP stay where they are, they will be visible in the background every time the Labour leader makes a speech.


Whoever said politics was out of touch with real issues?

Labour SNP Fight - Simon Cowell puts a hand over his face


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