Another year, another conference season done and dusted. This year was more gruelling than previous ones since the advent of the Con-Dem coalition meant that I had to endure two days in Liverpool at the Lib Dem Conference as well as two in Manchester with the comrades before the final round in Birmingham with Dave and the boys. On the positive front it was good to stay in big cities that can cope with thousands of conference goers without collapsing – the hotels are clean, they aren’t a rip off and you can get a decent meal. Anyone who has experienced a Blackpool or Bournemouth conference will understand just how important these things are.
But what of the conferences themselves? Well, a couple of observations. The first sartorial: a quick look around each of the conference halls revealed that Lib Dem delegates still favour the comedy tie and the novelty waistcoat, at Labour there were a plentiful supply of anoraks in anoraks and the ICC in Birmingham has distinguished by the large numbers of woman who wearing clothes run up from curtain material and men in chalk stripe, double-breasted suits. Oh, dear, oh dear (or Doe a dear for the Tory ladies).
On a more serious note, it was depressing just how few ethnic minority delegates attended the Lib Dem conference. Yes there were a few black faces in the crowd but once you eliminated consultants like me, others on commercial passes and journalists, I reckon you would have had just a handful of party delegates who weren’t white. The fact that the Conservatives have done better at recruiting ethnic minority activists should be a source of great shame to the party, hang your head Nick Clegg. Not that we should be getting too excited about the number of black people at the ICC, it was nothing like representative of the population but at least it felt that the party recognises it needs to take active steps to make it more so.
As for the atmosphere, there was a good deal of excitement and congratulation at the Lib Dem conference but it also felt like few, including minister or two, had grasped the reality that they were in government and were now responsible for things. The Labour conference felt flat and out of sorts. At first people were working out what the election of Miliband, E would mean for the party and when they worked out that it would mean the departure of Miliband, D a grey cloud descended over Manchester. I went to Birmingham expecting much celebrating – after all the party is back in power after 13 long years. And yes, people were delighted to be back in, to have beaten Labour. But they were also a bit subdued and that was before the child benefit debacle which got so many of their backs up.