Security tips, ministers ‘gagging for it’ and the end of a barren consensus

Alastair Harper is Green Alliance’s senior policy adviser on Political Leadership and  roving party conference diarist.

This is his final diary posting from the Conservative party conference in Birmingham, first published on Business Green.

Well, thank God that’s over with. Three lanyards now dangle from the side of my monitor like campaign medals. It’s lucky we’re largely a three party system. One more of these things and I’d have developed trench foot.

I’m home for good. Home for the last few days has been a hotel in an industrial part of Birmingham two miles from the secure zone. In the lift, there was an advert for an upcoming Roy Chubby Brown tribute night. This, it is fair to say, was not the prime minister’s hotel.

Anyway, with it all done, I thought I’d use this final diary to list some of the things I’ve learned from this party conference season –

  • If you’re going through a security detector, don’t bother to empty your pockets. Being patted down takes less time than removing your belt, change, keys and then still setting off the buzzer because you’d forgotten you were wearing cufflinks.
  • Greg Barker can phrase things like no other politician. Birmingham council’s commitment to the Green Deal was its “first notch on the bed post”, he told one audience. Perhaps most surreal was his exploration of the distinction between green consumers “gagging for it” and “gagging on it”.
  • The best lobbying oppurtunities at party conference season are provided by low carbon transportation. Time and again, I was told how x happened to be sat opposite y on the train to Manchester and they had a much more productive conversation than ever before. Meeting someone out of our comfort zone can take months of diary haggling for a 30 minute chat over bad coffee in Portcullis House. People on trains are trapped.  Having said that, I was sat next to James Murray on the train down to Birmingham. Over half a bottle of Casillero del Diablo in two plastic cups, we set the world to rights.
  • Ed Miliband intended to deliver a greener speech. Several people who had seen drafts, and even been involved in writing the speech have now said the Labour leader intended to make his “one nation” theme lead into a quite substantial argument for “one planet.” However, note-free, he missed his cue. Next year, Ed.
  • The Lib Dems are staking their reputation on green. The environment is where they have very publically said they will make a difference in government. Now they know they will be tested on whether they live up to it. I am told that the quad’s meeting next week on energy policy will be the first big test.
  • One final thing that was clear at the three party conferences – the environment matters again. The barren consensus over the environment has been broken. It used to be that each of the three parties would say that climate change was the biggest threat to the future, and then proceed not to mention it again for twelve months. One party’s being perceived as moving away from that consensus has led to a lot more action. The biggest businesses, civil society, and two of the three party leaders have come out strongly on the issue of a carbon number and made the environment front page news for the first time in years. It has become a political test as to whether you are serious about growing our economy in a resilient way or just interested in playing to the fringes of your party faithful.

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