Once upon a time, Welsh spring party conference season used to last a little over a month. Now it seems to last a lot longer and this year’s prolonged Welsh season means your memory (or lack of) relating to the first such event may be blurred somewhat by the time we get to the final one. As a sort of aide de memoir, here’s the Positif shorthand take of each of the party conferences.
Plaid Cymru: Way back in March, Bangor was added to the array of Welsh conference venues for the first time in modern political memory. The venue gave the chance to showcase the Pontio building and in all honesty, it was certainly a refreshing improvement on other recent venues in north west Wales. However, the downside of a public building was that it was sometimes difficult to distinguish between public and public affairs sector. Certainly, party delegates seemed to enjoy their event. There was much more of a buzz about the place then the previous year in Llangollen, and Adam Price definitely provided a focal point for the new enthusiasm. His policy rich conference speech set a high bar for all the party leaders to follow and none of them quite made it. Plaid Cymru emerged from conference more energised and more at ease with itself than it has appeared for some years.
Liberal Democrats: Finally, a Lib Dem event which didn’t feel like a funeral wake. The numbers were up, the enthusiasm was up, and the only way was up. Though still noticeably smaller than the other Welsh parties, the Lib Dems are agitating for a fight and looking for a chance to prove themselves. The conference seemed obsessed with how they might do this in two ways. On the one hand, half the delegates assumed we would definitely be heading to a second referendum on membership of the European Union; on the other hand, the other half assumed a recall by-election in Brecon & Radnorshire was just around the corner and were looking forward to that battle.
Welsh Labour: Rather a strange beast this one. Perhaps it didn’t help that delegates were in Llandudno for a fifth consecutive year, but there was certainly a “we’ve heard it all before” feel about this conference despite it being Mark Drakeford’s first as leader. Arguably he didn’t help the situation by being as preoccupied with the past as with the future. Despite Mark’s best intentions to re-energise the party, the backdrop of rowing over Brexit just didn’t sit comfortably. It also didn’t help that AM turnout was so low that there were almost as many MPs present, with about half the Labour Assembly group staying away. In Labour you normally have a surfeit of politicians to talk to: this time it was different. Whether that was a concerted effort to undermine the new leader is an impression left on many people as they trooped out of Llandudno on the long and winding journey home.
Welsh Conservatives: This year’s Welsh Tory conference felt like an homage to Plaid the previous year – back in Llangollen, one day of business spooled out over two, a small exhibition area, and a preoccupation with a future leadership election at the expense of the here and now. To be fair, the Conservatives actively encouraged this by trooping in a series of UK Cabinet ministers (or ex-ministers in the case of blonde Boris) as a means of building morale. They certainly seemed more welcome than the Prime Minister, who added very little to proceedings. Fair play to Paul Davies though, who gave a barnstormer of a speech and succeeded in simultaneously rallying and focusing the troops. When he told people to look beyond Brexit and focus on the performance of the Welsh Labour Government and the next Assembly government, you got the sense he actually did mean it.
So that’s it for conference season. Until we meet again in Swansea on 4th and 5th October for Plaid Cymru once more