conferences this year fall at an interesting time in the political cycle.
Following the Cabinet reshuffle and as we approach the mid-term for the
Coalition Government, this autumn will begin to shape the terms along which the
next election is fought. We will see parties re-evaluate the relative success
and challenges stemming from their 2010 manifestos, and a renewed effort to
reach out to members through a re-iteration of core values and principles.
Whilst last year’s conferences took place in the wake of civil unrest, this
year’s are set against a backdrop of renewed focus on successful
community-building following the summer Olympic Games.
party conference seasons have led to a pervasive critique that the conferences
themselves, which one commentator recently described as ‘festivals for the
professional political class’, now pander to the needs of lobbyists rather than
party members. Other observers have pondered whether, in times of political
coalition and economic hardship, we need to move 'beyond
the party' in considering long-term solutions. And so as Westminster
begins the exodus to Brighton, Manchester and Birmingham, the key question is what opportunities the conferences themselves present
to capture the impetus for social change?
is fertile ground in policy-making terms. And the
basis for the party conferences themselves remains as a gathering of ideas,
innovations and inspiration. It may not seem the case from snapshots from the
Commons sometimes, but the main political parties are very much in consensus in
highlighting which social and economic issues policy must address. They all
paint a similar picture in outlining prerogatives for sustainable economic growth, social renewal and bottom-up
The ResPublica fringe programme, amounting to an
unprecedented 27 fringe events this year, demonstrates the potential for
meaningful debate and policy innovations which lie in store this party
conference season. Our fringe discussions aim therefore to tackle the big
issues which face politics and society today, such as restoring association in
a climate of low trust in political institutions, cultural integration and
British identity, root causes of youth disaffection and the meaning of marriage
in modern times. In response to the key challenges for the economy, we also
will explore priorities for devolved growth and infrastructure finance, skills
for a sustainable labour market, and plural business models – all taking into
account the need for mutuality within markets and economic policies which also
benefit social goals. And our vision for a social economy will also address a
deficit in value and choice within public services, and the solutions which can
be reached through personal budgets and personalisation of services rooted in
These are themes that ResPublica will continue to explore
beyond the party conferences, through our research, publications and events
programme throughout the rest of the year. And whilst our fringe events are an
important contribution to these debates, we appreciate that not everyone is
able or inclined to attend party conferences. This is why we have compiled a collection of articles in order to extend the discussions to a wider audience,
and why we continue to make the most of social media to capture the debates.
This article has been published in the ResPublica Fringe magazine, a collection of articles and essays from our party conference partners.
Find further details of the ResPublica fringe events programme here.