Guide: 2018 political party conferences


The autumn party conference season is over for another year.

Here are the highlights from the past six weeks, as Britain's political parties gathered together to debate issues, decide policy and to socialise.

The Conservative Party - 1-3 October in Birmingham

media captionIn full: Theresa May's speech to 2018 Conservative conference

Theresa May promised the end of austerity was in sight as she urged her party to put their Brexit divisions behind them and take the fight to Labour.

In her closing leader's speech, the prime minister said the Conservatives must not be the party for the few nor the many, but for everyone who worked hard.

She announced plans to free up councils to borrow against their assets to fund house building, action to save lives through earlier cancer diagnoses and investment in scanning plus another year's freeze in fuel duty.

In a generally well-received performance, which began with her sashaying her way on to the stage to the strains of Abba's Dancing Queen, the PM signalled more money for public services after next year's Spending Review.

On Brexit, which dominated the conference, she did not mention her much-criticised Chequers plan by name but warned critics that by holding out for the perfect deal they risked ending up not leaving at all.

This was, in large part, a riposte to former foreign secretary Boris Johnson, who a day earlier told a large fringe crowd that Mrs May's strategy was undemocratic and would "cheat" those who voted for Brexit in 2016.

Mr Johnson, who quit the cabinet in July, prompted renewed talk of a leadership bid by attacking Mrs May's reform of stop and search powers when she was home secretary and calling for a tax-cutting agenda.

While talk of a May-Johnson face-off garnered most of the week's headlines and many ministers found themselves greeted by sparse crowds on the conference floor, there were a string of announcements made.

These included an emergency £240m social car package to enable more elderly people to be cared for at home, a pilot scheme to cut down on food waste and a ban on combustible cladding in all new residential buildings, as well as schools and hospitals, over 60ft in height.

Labour - 23-26 September in Liverpool

media captionJeremy Corbyn's full speech to 2018 Labour conference in Liverpool lasted nearly 60 minutes.

Jeremy Corbyn ended the week in Liverpool by telling supporters Labour was ready to return to government, with a "radical plan to rebuild and transform our country".

The Labour leader vowed to end the "greed-is-good" culture he said had dominated politics for decades, saying his party's promise of greater state intervention in the markets was the "new common sense of our time".

He also offered to back Theresa May if she presented a "sensible" Brexit deal to MPs for approval.

He used his keynote speech to announce some new policies - such as on childcare and green jobs - but it was mainly a chance to rally the troops for another general election, which Labour wants above all.

The most significant event of the week, in policy terms, was members' decision to back a new Brexit policy stating that all options should remain on the table, including the possibility of another referendum.

The party's Brexit spokesman, Sir Keir Starmer, caused a stir when he told activists that nobody should rule out the option of remaining in the EU being on the ballot paper in a future referendum - a view that is not shared by some in the party.

On the economic front, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell announced the water industry in England would be the first to be re-nationalised under Labour while all large firms would be forced to give workers shares worth up to £500 a year each - a plan for "inclusive ownership funds" immediately attacked by business.

There were no major rows - and there were plenty of "Oh Jeremy Corbyn" chants - although the party was criticised for dropping plans to create a second deputy leader position, to be filled by a woman, following opposition from left-wing campaign groups.

The SNP - 7-9 October in Glasgow

media captionIn full: Nicola Sturgeon's speech to the SNP conference

Nicola Sturgeon called for "pragmatism and patience" from independence supporters in her leader's speech to the SNP conference.

The Scottish first minister said she was "more confident than ever" that Scotland would become independent one day.

She added that members must "wait for the fog of Brexit to clear" and work to win over people who voted No in the 2014 independence referendum.

She also announced new policies on nursing, infrastructure, fair work and support for the homeless.

As they met in Glasgow, the party confirmed its 35 MPs at Westminster would vote in favour of a new referendum on Brexit, were such a question to be tabled in the UK Parliament.

Paraphrasing Winston Churchill while decrying Brexiteer "ideologues", Ms Sturgeon said that "never has so much been lost by so many to satisfy so few".

Liberal Democrats - 15-18 September in Brighton

media captionIn full: Sir Vince Cable's full speech to 2018 Lib Dem conference

In his second keynote speech to conference as their leader, Sir Vince Cable said the UK's exit from the European Union was "not inevitable" and must be stopped.

He claimed there was a growing realisation that Brexit would be "costly and painful", particularly in a no-deal scenario, and urged Jeremy Corbyn to get behind the cross-party campaign for another referendum.

Much of the coverage following the speech surrounded the phrase "erotic spasm".

The headline-grabbing attack on Brexiteers was included in the trail of the speech released the night before but Sir Vince somewhat mangled it during its delivery and the words came out as "exotic spresm".

Elsewhere, anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller - touted as a possible successor to Sir Vince - told the party she was their friend but not a leader-in-waiting as she was not even a party member.

UKIP - 21-22 September in Birmingham

media captionGerard Batten tells the UKIP conference: Some people say I have saved the party

UKIP should become a "radical, populist party" standing up for free speech against the "politically-correct thought police", its leader Gerard Batten told party activists.

As the party met in Birmingham, it published an "interim manifesto" urging a "clean exit" from the EU, the abolition of stamp duty and inheritance tax, new grammar schools, scrapping the overseas aid budget and BBC licence fee and an end to guidelines on "subjective" hate crimes.

Mr Batten, the party's sixth leader since the Brexit referendum, said these policies were aimed at low and middle-income families and small businesses which "form the backbone of Britain".

The Green Party of England and Wales - 5-7 October in Bristol

media captionGreens say fracking's 'days are numbered'

The Green Party unveiled a series of policies which they said could help them overtake the Lib Dems as the third largest party in England and Wales while offering a "real alternative" to Labour.

Among them were a "Free Time Index" to measure the UK's "well-being", as an alternative to traditional economic indicators and paid training leave for all workers to boost skills and reduce staff turnover.

Co-leader Sian Berry said this was "radical common sense for the common good". On Brexit, she said momentum behind calls for a new referendum "feels absolutely unstoppable".

Her co-leader Jonathan Bartley called for a total "system overhaul" to deal with the threat from climate change saying his party would no longer "debate with climate-change deniers because there isn't time".

Plaid Cymru - 5-6 October in Cardigan

media captionAdam Price calls on Plaid Cymru to offer "hope for those without hope"

Welsh independence must be "on the table" after Brexit, Adam Price told activists in his first major speech since being elected leader.

Comparing Brexit to the Titanic disaster, he warned that Wales could find itself "at the mercy of Westminster" if the UK left the EU's single market and customs union.

Domestically, he promised a "new vision" for health and social care, with reviews to examine the creation of a National Care Service and whether GPs should continue to act as private operators.

If it won power, he said Plaid would build a "National Western Rail Line" from Swansea to Bangor, and introduce a "comprehensive child package" so parents could return to work when they choose.