A bit of lazy blogging. But going through various bits and pieces from last week it occurred to me that I didn’t post my speech from the Neighbourhood Watch conference I referred to in Tweeting not twitching in Wandsworth.

I don’t often write speeches – which probably shows through in my performances in the council chamber – but was pressured to put a bit more preparation into this! And having done it, I’ll be damned if my words of wisdom won’t be available for all on the internet (with the usual “check against delivery” caveat):

Hello and welcome everyone to the Battersea Park Pump House for this afternoon’s conference on the Big Society and Neighbourhood Watch.

I would like to start by thanking Wandsworth Community Safety Trust for funding this afternoon and to the Wandsworth Community Safety Team for organising it.

I’m particularly excited by this afternoon’s programme because I have long believed that Neighbourhood Watch can be the leading example of the Big Society, and, here in Wandsworth, our work has been proving just that.

However, while we can throw any number of buzz-words at Neighbourhood Watch: whether we think it’s the Big Society, an example of nudge, traditional community empowerment – and I think there are plenty of examples to illustrate each concept and far more besides – the key thing about Neighbourhood Watch is that it just works.
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Fairy cake and a cup of teaA very quiet week, so I’m resorting to my cup of tea photo.

Conservative Party Conference
If council business slows down during conference season it grinds to a halt during the Conservative Party Conference. A lot of colleagues were in Manchester this week meaning, for the political side of the council at least, not much could be done.

I haven’t actually said that much about the Tory conference on the blog. I believed before (and still believe after) that the main event was the Labour conference. It was for Gordon Brown to turn his fortunes around and start a fight-back. Unfortunately for him it does not seem to have happened.

But I think the Conservative Party can look back at a highly successful successful conference. It is very difficult for an opposition to look like a Government, but that started to happen this week. The party was able to start outlining some of the hard measures they are going to have to take to tackle the huge debt crisis alongside some of their plans and priorities for Government.

George Osborne, particularly, seemed to come of age in Manchester. Last night’s Question Time seemed to highlight the choice facing the country. Osborne handled himself well, while Yvette Cooper for Labour seemed tired and deflated. Indeed, her reliance on the Labour Party’s line on inheritance tax was trotted out so often (regardless of the question) even the audience started mocking her for it.

Of course, a successful conference and a weak government does not mean the Conservatives can be complacent – and now summer and the conferences are over we start, once again, working to elect a Conservative government and re-elect a Conservative council.

You will have spotted that I’m not at conference which seems to have surprised many. A few years ago it would have surprised me; I used to love conference, and from 1997 until 2002 I was a regular attendee. Then in 2003 I just didn’t go. No particular reason, I just never got a pass or booked a B&B.

The next, and last, time I went was 2005 in Blackpool.

There are lots of reasons I stopped going. I sometimes joke that I’m too old to enjoy the party but too young to enjoy the conference. And there is certainly some truth to that. I never sat in the hall listening to speeches (when I did listen it would be from a bar with coverage on the TV). The reason I liked conference was the networking, the late nights and the fact that it was, very much, a week-long party for the faithful. And I’m much much too old for that now.

There are other reasons, of course, I have referred to my loss of political ambition around the time I stopped going (although I didn’t associate them until now) and now I have a family it’s not as easy to just go away for a week.

But definitely amongst the reasons I stopped going was the party’s decision to stop holding conference at Blackpool.

I’m not naïve about the decision. I know, for example, that there’s no reason they were ever held at Blackpool (or Brighton or Bournemouth) other than the happy co-location of lots of cheap B&Bs and conference facilities. I know there was a symbolism in the shift to Manchester and Birmingham.

And, deep down, I know that Blackpool was far from an ideal venue. But doesn’t mean I don’t miss it.

My association with Blackpool is mainly through party conference. I’d been there once as a child, on a day trip to see the illuminations through my father’s ‘club’ (I’m not sure if places like the Athaneum or Carlton offer such trips for the children of members, but the British Rail Social Association certainly did). But when I went in my early twenties as a delegate to the National Union of Students conference my eyes were opened.

It was great, you had student politics and alcohol all concentrated into one place and one week. Sleeping four to a room in a cheap B&B wasn’t ideal, but by two or three in the morning that didn’t really matter.

So when I discovered that party conference was a similar deal, but with better sponsors and my own en suite room, I was sold and Blackpool became a regular destination.

It’s hard to pinpoint why I love Blackpool, since it’s not a place I would recommend for tourism. Particularly when its location leaves it prone to gales and torrential downpours. But I think there is a Blackpool state of mind, an attitude.

Blackpool knows what it is, and is proud – not ashamed – of it. With many places you have a sense that all you’re seeing is a façade, a sanitised veneer, with the ‘real’ place hidden away. Like thinking London is nothing more than the West End or that New York and Manhatten are coterminous.

But Blackpool doesn’t have that pretence. It is all there for you too see. It’s garish and loud, but proudly garish and loud. It’s kitsch and in your face – I know of no other place where sex-aids are sold alongside kiss me quick hats.

It is a different world to the one most Conservative (and I’d guess Labour) Party Conference delegates know. And I think most delegates are better for seeing it, even if only for a few days.

And it’s a world I think it’s impossible not to enjoy. Regardless of the luxury you might be used to normally, a stay in a seaview B&B and blusterly strolls along the promenade are impossible not to enjoy. Before the rise of package holidays and cheap flights Blackpool was an a premier destination for holiday makers – our Las Vegas – because it was unadultered and unashamed fun.

There is part of me that regrets not going to conference this year, as much because I know so many people going corporately as the politics. And while I’m sure, sooner or later, I’ll be going to conference again I don’t think I’ll ever enjoy it quite as much as those blusterly weeks in Blackpool.

I owe readers and residents a confession.

At the weekend I drank champagne. I had quite a lot too. This is obviously the single biggest issue that faces Wandsworth at this time – so I thought you’d best hear from me before a photo appears in the local press.

Of course, if you were at a wedding as well, you’d probably have had some champagne – along with the hundreds of thousands of others who have had champagne at sometime to celebrate anything or, indeed, nothing.

That the Daily Mirror chose to run a picture of David Cameon at a party drinking champagne the day after the Shadow Chancellor became the first to start outlining plans to tackle the debt crisis we face says a lot.

It says that they have forgotten exactly what sort of parties have been going on at Labour conferences over the years (champagne socialiststs, anyone?) and it says they are utterly bereft of legitimate criticism.

They will presumably also be campaigning for a revision of second world war history, given Churchill’s penchant for Pol Roger champagne and Romeo y Julieta cigars while the country faced strict rationing.

It shows that while the Conservatives are talking about the real problems facing the country the left can do little more than trot out shock revelations that someone had a drink at a party. The level of political debate from the left in this country is shockingly and disappointingly low if this is the best they can do.

Obama hope posterPolitics are about hope. Or, at least, the best politics are about hope. Politics can represent a way to find freedom from tyranny, or simply highlight a future with a higher disposable income and more security. Entire campaigns can be run on hope and little else (President Obama’s, for example).

Politics should be about inviting the electorate to see your particular vision of tomorrow, and asking them to help you get there.

And that’s why I’m enjoying the Labour Party conference so much. I always felt this would be the main event and I haven’t been disappointed. Admittedly, they haven’t really outlined a vision of how a fourth term Labour government would look. But maybe they have provided hope to their supporters.

It was meant to be a wake. A last gathering of the party faithful to rally them for the coming massacre. But is it, instead, providing a glimmer of hope?

Andrew Marr’s popping of the anti-depressant question may have been the turning point. Instead of questions about the PM’s competence there was a mood swing; such questions are, rightly, inappropriate and instead of leading to further questions of the PM, it resulted in investigation of the rumour’s source and questions about the journalistic merit of the interview.

And while there have been some depressing polls for the government (even seeing them in third place), there have been some far more heartening polls undertaken more recently. YouGov’s daily tracking has already given them a 5% conference bounce. Another poll (and I apologise for the News of The World link) suggests that half the population can still envisage a Labour win.

Given that the electoral system has a significant built in advantage for the Labour party (a Conservative victory would break a number of records) maybe the faithful in Brighton needn’t be so glum.

Brighton has seen a few good performances by Mandelson and Darling, and if Brown can follow it up later today then the election starts getting interesting.

Of course, the next election has never been taken for granted by the Conservatives – either locally or nationally – but it was clear that Labour activists were not enthused. So while in Tooting Labour’s Sadiq Khan is clearly fighting hard to hold what has become a marginal seat, in neighbouring Putney you get the feeling Stuart King’s game plan is for the Tooting nomination in 2014.

The biggest danger any party faces is when its most loyal supporters give up hope. It’s the equivalent of turning off life support. It happened to the Tories in ’97; activists suddenly found themselves otherwise engaged, supporters just didn’t have the time to vote.

Until now exactly the same was happening to the Labour party, but maybe there’s life in the old dog yet: and where there’s life, there’s hope.

Gordon Brown HopeAND AFTER BROWN’S SPEECH… The problem with expressing opinions that are, basically, dependent on a future event, is that if said event let’s you down you are screwed.

Having watched the big speech I just don’t think Brown rose to the pressure. A lot of recycled policies, but no passion or even much of a sense of purpose beyond not letting the Tories in. If I were a Labour activist, I don’t think I’d be describing myself as enthused. What do you think?

The council goes into a mini-hibernation during party conference season, partly because so many councillors attend their conferences. This doesn’t, however, apply during the Liberal Democrat conference for the simple reason that there are no Liberal Democrats on Wandsworth council. We have been in the fortunate position of being a two party council and, despite some opportunistic campaigning, the Liberal Democrats have never made inroads in Wandsworth on a council or Parliamentary level.

And this week’s conference can’t have given them any confidence they will be seeing a breakthrough at the next election.

It seemed doomed from the start. Nick Clegg’s decision to use the phrase “savage cuts” was wrong. Lib Dems are regularly (and arguably rightly) pilloried as trying to be all things to all people. But suddenly we had a leader who seemed to relish being more macho than the Prime Minister or Leader of the Opposition in his approach to public spending. The problem with the word ‘savage’ is that it doesn’t imply much intelligence. From being leader of a party that straddled the centre he was now the leader proposing indiscriminate cuts.

It wasn’t helped when the sainted Vince Cable announced to delegates, and his colleagues, ideas for a property tax. His reputation was further tarnished by a number of interviews when he didn’t come across as the super-economist his publicity paints.

And (although it might just be that I’m over-sensitive as a Conservative) when it seemed they were as keen to give as much conference time to knocking the Tories as highlighting their own policies you begin to realise that their aspirations of becoming the second party in British politics, or Nick Clegg’s desire to be Prime Minister, are pipe-dreams rather than realistic ambitions.

But the biggest problem they faced this year is that they were never going to be any more than a side-show.

This year the game is between the Conservatives and the Labour Party. And it’s the Labour Party conference that is the main event. David Cameron only needs to put in a competent performance. If he avoids the pitfalls of making policy from the podium and unthinking posturing he will have had a successful conference. We need to continue setting out our stall and outlining what a Conservative Britain will look like, but fireworks aren’t needed.

The fireworks will come next week, as the beleaguered Prime Minister tries to do the impossible and re-assert his authority. The papers are running rumours about resignation on vague ‘health’ grounds and we’ve already had the traditional call for him to go from Charles Clarke and there are going to be plenty more mutterings about the PM’s position in Brighton. If Nick Clegg had a bad week, he can at least take comfort that Gordon Brown is almost certain to have an even worse conference.