Monday, 26 September 2011

Thoughts on first full day of Labour Conference

Something that has struck me from watching the 'debates' at Labour Party conference so far is the anarchy of the system to getting called to speak. If you go with red hair, wear a red tie, jump around, dance in your place you may, or may not, get the eye of the chair.

Now conference halls are big, but a lot of the people called to speak were called seemed to be first time delegates, maybe their had the enthusiasm to dance in place until they got called. As for 'debate' as I use the word advisedly there was very little to it and how can you structure a balanced debate if those who want to appear on TV dressed in red, dance around or do something to get the attention of the chair. It is almost like the X-Factor for politics. It is why I like the fact that at Lib Dem conference we have actual debates and our chairs will balance the arguments by the cards that are put in and the debate covers the aspects that the hall wishes to cover. We also don't leave it down to the best/worst dancers in the hall to have a word.

Then there was all the media hype about Rory Weal a 16 year old delegate. There was comparison of him to a young William Hague. But I wrote earlier in passing about three of the five Lib Dem conference speakers who I could rattle off who were younger this year. Not all of whom were first time speakers either. None of them had to jump up and down to get noticed, all of them offered sensible contributions to debates down the years. yes even though as 14, or 12 have spoken on a number of issues. Speaking on issues like education, drugs, blood ban and sometimes making a difference to party policy as they speak in controversial debates at times.

I appreciate that Rory got up and talked about the Welfare State, threw in a personal anecdote. But it was the sort of speech that was guaranteed to speak to the party faithful. It was in a debate that I believe did lead to a vote, although only to accept a paper, not on forming a policy brought by a local CLP or branch to the floor. That is another difference I have noticed this week. There are these debates, then to close there is a set piece from a front bencher to finish. Most, though not all Lib Dem debates are summed up by ordinary members. Often we have to address disagreements from the floor. Things don't always go through on the nod and indeed this year there were a great number of close votes.

If Labour insists on having people speak in a session in which there is no vote surely it is a conversation and not a debate. If the chair does not know if someone is against what is being said before they step unto the platform how is that a debate. And if you are merely selecting people to speak based on them catching your eye on the floor you will get the TV wannabes and not necessarily those who may have something to add to the 'debate'.

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