The annual Party Conference season has, in my view, become a bit of a circus. These used to be occasions for the Party faithful to meet in off-season seaside towns to chew over policy, rub shoulders with the good and the great and attend a few jolly parties. The Liberals wore smocks and sandals and were rather worthy (as my friend Jim Hall is wont to recite: “Here’s two Liberals on their way to the Chapel; faces and a….s scrubbed in carbolic”); the cloth capped, mufflered-up Socialist brethren of the Labour Party produced “composites” and sang the red Flag; and we Tories sipped Champagne in the grander hotels. That has all be swept away now by the need for 24 hour news, and the Conferences have become increasingly designed for the media, lobbyists, businesses and less and less for the activist.
I have had to miss the Tory Conference in Manchester this year for personal reasons; but frankly I shall shed no tears as a result. They have become pretty ghastly events. And I shall hear and see more on TV and radio that I would have had I been there in person.
And at all events, with the world in crisis, I would have found it hard to focus on the minutiae of party policy. The Russian bombing in Syria risks turning a disaster into a global catastrophe. By targeting the legitimate rebels, who are supported by the US and in a non-lethal way by Britain, Mr Putin risks a proxy war with the West. He is de-escalating in Ukraine at the same time, moving his focus to the Middle East. The US and France are bombing Daesh and we may join them; Turkey is bombing the Kurds, who we are supporting in Iraq; Shia Iranian soldiers are being deployed on the ground against the 80% Sunni population of Syria, who may by that action be forced into the waiting arms of Daesh. The whole thing is a mess, and the resulting mass migration of millions of refugees can hardly be a surprise. So instead of the Conference, I will be attending a special meeting of the Commons Defence and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting in Parliament today (unusually during the Recess) to try to make sense of the whole thing.
Parliament will be back on Monday, and those of us who find the Party Conferences rather trying will breathe a hearty sigh of relief, as we get back to the real business of running Britain and playing our part in trying to find some solution to the vast and intractable problems of the wider world.