It’s now five years since I first attended party conferences for my job, and I’ve noted some quite different atmospheres over the years.
The 2009 party conferences were the most striking: the quietly confident Conservative conference where champagne was strictly off limits, Labour’s failed coups and sense of impending downfall, and the pre-Cleggmania stoicism at Lib Dems. All this with the backdrop of the MPs’ expense scandal rumbling on.
Fast forward to 2012 and it’s quite a different picture. We’re now halfway through the current Parliament, and after a couple of years of policy reviews and tentative steps towards an overarching narrative, this conference’s leader’s speech gave a more definite shape of the values a 2015 Labour government would be driven by and some of the policies it would make.
Ed Miliband’s One Nation Britain speech had activists, politicians and commentators chatting all night in the conference bars, and I suspect many organisations will be starting to think through what the frame means for the issues they work on – growth is clearly still important, but so too is the notion of fairness.
Housing has featured quite prominently in the Labour frontbenches’ speeches, most notably in the Shadow Chancellor’s address on Monday, but nods have been made by others too – in relation to health, communities, growth, jobs. Ed Balls’ proposal was that a future Labour government would use a projected £4 billion windfall from the sale of 4G networks to build 100,000 new homes. With a nod to aspiration, Ed Balls also stated that a future Labour government would create another stamp duty holiday for first time buyers buying homes for less than £250,000.
But it wasn’t just from the main podium that housing was on the agenda. At our fringe event with Fujitsu we asked our panel of commentators from across the political spectrum (Ed Miliband’s Adviser Lord Wood, Ipsos Mori’s Ben Page, ConservativeHome’s Tim Montgomerie, LabourList’s Mark Ferguson) which key arguments they think Labour should be making in 2015.
Panellists and audience members said that housing should be a key priority – particularly as concerns about housing affect more and more people. In other fringe events, it was becoming increasingly clear that Labour’s shadow housing team were making headway in moving towards more concrete policy proposals, especially on private renting, which is being touted as a key political battleground for 2015.
With Nick Clegg talking about the importance of meeting people’s housing aspirations at the Liberal Democrat conference, and the Labour party clearly upping its game, we look forward to seeing what senior Conservative figures will be saying next week. Could this be the makings of a party political ‘arms race’ on housing? Tune in next week to find out.