It’s understandable that political activists and media commentators lament the ‘stage managed’ party conferences we are provided with today. After all, a good row is what both tend to relish.
But a party conference is the political version of the school Open Day – it gives the public a rare chance to look inside a party, see beyond the leaders and get a supposed picture of what the party is made up of. And like at school, the headmaster and his associates want to make sure everyone is on best behaviour.
The result is that real debate moves away from the cameras to the fringe meetings and to the think-tanks. The public display has to have everyone turned out in the brightest white PE kit all singing from the same song sheet.
Is this spin or is this just common sense? Well I wonder what those Tories who have been talking ‘inclusive’ and ‘compassion’ and touchy-feely conservatism were thinking when conference delegate Tim Metcalfe made this little speech yesterday in Blackpool:
“Make prison a genuine punishment, bring back solitary confinement, take away their TVs and snooker tables.”
(Applause from the audience)
Then: “Bring back birching for young tearaways that terrorise council estates and vandalise graveyards.”
(Cheers from the floor)
(More cheers from the floor)
“Bring back hanging.”
(Even more cheers from the floor)
And to the climax: “Let us show the country that we really do mean business on crime by showing our support for Tony Martin.”
The response: “Hip, hip, hooray”.
Still maybe he isn’t that far off message. After all the supposedly modernising, moderate New Tory, Oliver Letwin’s main message yesterday was all about locking asylum seekers away on some un-disclosed island and having police sheriffs elected across the country.
Letwin is supposed to be the man who has learnt the lessons of New Labour. Are we really surprised that they only things he has adopted are gimmicks on crime and immigration?