Politics and party conferences – what should charities look out for?

With just a few weeks to go, many charities’ attentions will inevitably turn to party conferences. Whether you’re attending any of the conferences or not, they should have a big political impact, so now seems a good time to highlight a few of the interesting political debates to look out for.

Liberal Democrats

Lib Dem conference will be a smaller affair than normal, with many organisations choosing to scale down their presence in Bournemouth after May’s election result left the traditional third party with just 8 MPs.

New leader Tim Farron will look to set out a clear policy agenda however, and the rise in members post-May might mean the atmosphere is surprisingly optimistic to an outsider. Remember also that Lib Dem peers will be key to much of the legislation of the next few years.

Mr Farron’s campaigning approach is also likely to present opportunities for charities to get their causes in the headlines, if not on the statute books. This may be particularly true of charities dealing with politically difficult issues, such as immigration.


Brighton will be the setting for the new leader’s conference speech – always a big moment for a new opposition leader to set out their stall. Jeremy Corbyn is the current favourite to triumph, as we move into the last week of a gruelling, and sometimes bruising, campaign.

With only a small number of Labour MPs officially backing Mr Corbyn, if he does triumph, it will be interesting to see whether he can unite the party, inspiring some interesting speculation:

Of course if the early polling does turn out to be wrong, and pollsters have had a tough time this year, then there could be a whole new set of questions to answer.

Whoever wins, a new leadership team provides an ideal opportunity for charities to build new relationships and influence the early policy agenda. The lunchtime fringe session at our upcoming Campaigning Conference will look at the implications of new leaders and how to engage with them.


Manchester will no doubt be an opportunity for Conservatives to celebrate their election victory, and David Cameron to continue setting out the vision of a Conservative-only government.

Given what we’ve seen from George Osborne in previous years, expect announcements designed to make life difficult for whoever wins the Labour leadership.

What may be even more interesting will be the discussions in the fringe events, and the extent to which restless backbenchers, tired of having to work with Liberal Democrats, will seek to push the Conservative leadership further towards the right.

It is here that charities may get an opportunity to see where they can influence the debate, given the government’s slim majority.


The first conference get together for the Scottish National Party since their sensational election result will take place in Aberdeen, a couple of weeks after the Conservatives meet up.

With the SNP looking towards another victory in the Scottish Parliament elections in May 2016, expect the potential conditions for a second independence referendum to be on the agenda.

For many charity attendees this will be their first SNP conference, and even English and Welsh charities covering topics which are devolved to Scotland still need to think about how their votes could impact the legislative agenda.

The abandoned vote on fox hunting showed that the SNP are prepared to intervene on England-only matters which are contentious, so charities can’t afford to ignore them.

How to follow the debate

Not all charities have the time or resources to attend party conferences in person, but there should be plenty of coverage for those stuck at home or in the office – all the news channels normally carry the main leaders’ speeches live, and the BBC generally have more extensive coverage of the debate on the conference floor.

Of course many of the key debates will take place away from the TV cameras at the fringe, and helpfully many people who are there will be tweeting.

You can follow all the conferences on Twitter through the official hashtags #ldconf, #lab15, #cpc15, and #snpconf. Individual events may have their own individual hashtags too, so do check through the fringe guides for events even if you aren’t going.


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Chris is NCVO’s public affairs manager, focusing on parliamentary work. He started his career working for several MPs in Parliament, and has also worked in public affairs and policy roles for the Federation of Small Businesses.

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