The audience of around 1200 predominantly local authority councillors at the LGA Conference is a tough enough one for local government speakers. For those from our national political parties, it’s a minefield; over the years we’ve heard parliamentarians who clearly don’t have the slightest idea about what local government actually does – we’ve heard the “we know best”, the “just collect the bins and leave the rest to us” approach that often leaves more animosity than if they hadn’t turned up in the first place.
Will Cameron still return when he’s Prime Minister?
This year, we heard an eclectic mix – from John Healey and Hazel Blears, to David Cameron and Nick Clegg. One of my Labour colleagues expressed surprise that neither Healey nor Blears used the opportunity to good effect – another “we know best” performance left the audience confused. Equally, Nick “Super Stud” Clegg was eminently forgettable, studiously reading his speech, an old-fashioned “we’re the only real alternative” party political broadcast. Yet Cameron gave an inspiring performance, eschewing the rostrum for another lapel-miked, off-the-cuff analysis of the disconnect between a Labour government who are out of ideas and out of money. He talked about his social regeneration policy which needed all to work together – with devolution from a Conservative government to local authorities, and secondary devolution from local councils to the communities they serve.
He answered questions too – and not just the usual “specially selected, friendly fire” questions either. Tough questions from Conservative and Labour councillors about local government finance, about localsim and about whether Cameron’s ‘double devolution’ promise was real. A rather sad and pointlessly barbed LibDem press statement, read out for no reason other than for a few cheap quotes in the local press was met with charm and humour, bringing laughter and applause from the audience.
Finally, David Cameron made an appeal to councillors of all parties to work with the new Conservative government to close the gap in our societies, and to finally mend our broken society. And the acid test? Will Cameron still return when he’s Prime Minister…