People often ask what the point of attending the party conferences is. There are many. But perhaps one of the most important is the opportunity to see, hear and talk to politicians in ‘conversational’ rather than ‘messaging mode.’
I thought one of those moments came this evening when Vince Cable addressed the Royal Society’s reception.
Indeed, one could say he handed out a dose of sobre reality to those assembled – a mixture of delegates and the science lobby – and a hint of what might make a real difference in the final analysis.
He said that he had heard the pitch from science over the last few months, and that he thought it was ‘a particularly good case.’ But that in the current environment, it was also necessary to make choices.
He then said more candidly that the Government: ‘Needed an indication of the priorities’ and that if the science community was not forthcoming with these then it would be up to politicians to make those choices: ‘It would be helpful to be helped to make choices,’ he said.
I am sure the irony was not lost on those present that his remarks followed a forceful introduction by the Chair of the meeting which contained the key messages that the Royal Society and many others have put out over the past six months. There is nothing wrong in that, as Cable said himself, but it was an interesting juxtaposition nonetheless.
With five weeks to go until the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) is announced the Government is now well into decision-making mode and testing each and every possible scenario of what it could do. I thought Cable was giving a signal tonight that it was still possible to be part of that conversation but that perhaps the current tune was rapdily outliving its usefulness to Government.
Campaigns are often lost or won not on how loud you shout or the coverage one gets but the extent to which you have been able to provide politicians with solutions and ways out of complex problems.
But these are always difficult scenarios for campaigners – getting the balance right between the rallying cry so necessary to get your supporters working hard, and entering into a dialogue which is about getting the best deal on paper in circumstances.