In the old days, whenever they were, conferences used to be political. You could see politics happening. People who were interested in politics liked that.
But look at it now. It's all been professionalised. Sanitised. Harmonised. It's therapy. Conference-goers testify and ventilate their feelings. No one listens, particularly. Or if they do it doesn't matter.
Let me tell you about my experience with the NHS, a woman said, when my son hurt his leg. It was a health debate but you couldn't say what was a debate about it. The minister told us what they were doing (work was proceeding), and then four people were called from the floor. Three of them were parliamentary candidates of one sort or another. None of them were against the motion, if there was a motion. They were against the Tories (who are going round "scaring women"). The last speaker demanded applause for all the staff at her local hospital.
The minister happily told us all about the "personalised, proactive, clinically-led, evidence-based service" they were aiming for. The targets were not the goals, he said. Unless it was the other way round. At the beginning of the session, a man had objected to his group's emergency motion not being approved for debate. He wanted the conference to air its views on bombing Iran. You can see what he meant. But it wasn't possible.
On Sunday, the authorities abolished the right of delegates to introduce substantive issues, especially those that hadn't gone through the Policy Partnership for Power Process or whatever they call their strangling machine in the back there.
It is now not possible to criticise the Government from the floor in any structured way. It's not particularly new, this. They closed down politics on the floor years ago, it was why the fringe came into being. But it has to be said that the fringe is as anodyne as the conference floor now.
Ministers, ex-ministers, peers, dignitaries and quangocrats witter from podiums. Some have prepared a few remarks, others wait for the spirit to take them. It's a bit of a lottery, whether it does or not.
The platform talks for 40 minutes and then there are questions (or more mini-speeches) from the floor. Wittering skills are further practised until the hotel closes the room on the dot.
Our traditional political institutions are dead on their feet, or dying. That's one reason why people are disengaging from the political process. The hall is morbid. The fringe is moribund. We need a Beyond the Fringe to get some action going. We want to see ideas contested. A little drama would help.
A result. This power to the people thing they keep talking about. This thing Hazel Blears tell us we need, "a new sort of politics". But then, maybe this is what she means. They've organised it like this, after all. This fetor hasn't happened by accident.Reuse content