We’re nearly all party-conferenced-out, with the Conservatives, Labour and UKIP having already taken to the stage and the Lib Dems taking their turn next week.The media coverage has been extensive, although not always positive for the parties concerned, given high-profile defections taking place and keynotes speeches failing to go as planned.
In an age of social media and 24-hour news, the conferences can seem a little out-dated and may be perceived as simply a platform for party leaders to set out their priorities for the next election, rather than as a place where policy is debated and decided.
Indeed, it is often the slips-ups and behind the scenes action that takes the lion’s share of media coverage – Ed Miliband’s failure to mention the deficit this year, and the attention caused by Theresa May’s leopard-print shoes in 2002 are just two examples. In an age of austerity, the level of interest in the canapes being served (reportedly 5,000 a day at the Tory conference) and the entertainment put on for delegates is often what makes the headlines over the policy decisions and promises that the leaders would rather see on the front page.
So, are these annual gatherings of the party faithful of any real interest to anyone except political journalists and the Westminster elite? Political speeches in this country have never received the kind of adulation they seem to provoke in the US where political showboating is commonplace, and you have to wonder if the general public is really interested in what is said, and whether the speeches given influence votes at the next election.
Perhaps it is time to do away with these expensive showcase events and consider new ways to communicate with members and with the public at large.