Leopards changing their spots

Watching the Conservative party conference after the Labour party conference I'm reminded of the opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities; seldom has there been a greater contrast between our two great political parties.

Admittedly, the Labour Conference was not as dysfunctional as I feared it was going to be.  Getting the bad news over first, the outcome of the leadership contest seemed to result in an atmosphere of resigned despondency for the parliamentary party and jubilation amongst the wider membership.  I suspect Corbyn is now there for the duration of this Parliament, maybe even beyond and the more moderate wing looks to be prepared to make the best of a bad job.  At Westminster, Labour will try to hold the government to account but will be hobbled by the fact that they aren't seen as a credible or competent alternative, particularly by the mainstream media.  How this will feed down to a local government level I will attempt to address further on.

The Conservative party in Birmingham by contrast put on an incredibly choreographed performance - even Boris managed to stay on message for the whole four days.  There was the odd squeak of dissension from the odd former minister but otherwise the messaging and presentation was remarkable.  We saw a serious attempt to give some coherence to the Government's approach to Brexit, followed by varyingly successful speeches designed to put some meat on Theresa's Social Justice agenda.

The Prime Minister's speech closing the conference was less a 'pick a pocket or two' when it came to policies and positioning, but more an 'audacious smash and grab', not just of the labour Party but also UKIP.  More than once I heard seasoned and respected commentators asking what was the purpose of UKIP, a situation compounded by the news overnight of Diane James' resignation.

Of more concern was the almost complete silence from the Labour party to respond, challenge or criticise.  Labour reminds me of the Conservative party after 1997 when we retreated to the narrow comfort of our core vote, vacating the centre ground and completely failing in our duty to be an effective opposition.

Despite the dysfunctional opposition benches, the government's in-tray remains challenging and problematic so expect stormy squalls ahead.

The latest opinion polls since Theresa's election in July are averaging at about 40%, 30%, 8% and 12% for the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats and UKIP respectively.  We can expect a bounce for the Conservatives, it will be interesting to see at whose expense and for how long it is sustained and this should give us an indication as to what might happen at local government elections next year.  

Compared to May 2013, the Conservatives are ten points up, Labour down by the same amount and the Liberal Democrats and UKIP each slightly down by a couple of percentage points.  If the position remains broadly similar next May, it should be good news for Conservative candidates with the party maybe winning 300 to 400 seats, Labour may lose a similar amount and I suspect the Liberal Democrats may have a very good night indeed.

This article was written by Frank Browne a former leader of Wokingham Borough Council and a member of our non-Executive board.