So conference season is over. Poor old Ed Miliband might be relieved. On a human level I feel for him. But it really was an extraordinary howler to fail to mention the deficit once in his hour-long speech.
Boris teased him, saying that the “baggage handlers in his memory went on strike as they would under a Labour government and refused to load the word ‘deficit’ on to the conveyor belt of his tongue.” But there was a serious point too. Six years on from Labour’s great recession and many will ask themselves if Ed Miliband and Ed Balls have learnt anything.
Not surprising perhaps when you consider that they were the ones that were advising Gordon Brown as he steered Britain onto the rocks.
Up in Birmingham for the Conservative Conference the mood was more buoyant. After a tricky start, the place was fizzing with ideas and enthusiasm. It was good to spend time with David Cameron, briefing him on the issues that affect Cheltenham, such as the need to safeguard our acute hospital and also the need for an economic vision in our town. As a barrister, I was particularly interested to hear what the Home Secretary had to say about reforming stop and search powers (long overdue) as well as her robust comments about the “hateful ideology” of extremists. And as a taxpayer, I warmly welcomed the bold announcements about easing the burden of tax for British workers, including raising the tax-free personal allowance to ￡12,500.
In Glasgow, the Lib Dems got stuck into bashing both Labour and the Conservatives. Most of it is all good political knockabout.
But it was Vince Cable’s comments about immigration that struck a particularly odd note. Only earlier this year he hailed a spike in immigration as “good news”. Now in Glasgow he was criticizing the Conservatives for daring to have a net migration target at all.
The Lib Dems are completely out of touch of this issue. Let’s be clear - immigration has undoubtedly brought many benefits to Britain.
Controlled immigration can fill skills shortages and make our economy more competitive. Individual immigrants have made huge contributions to our national way of life. But what the Lib Dems seem unable to acknowledge is that uncontrolled immigration can create huge pressures on our society. It puts strain on public services, it can drive down wages for people on low incomes. It also adds to pressure on our green spaces - something we know a bit about in Cheltenham. To suggest there isn’t an issue here is plain wrong.
It’s one of the key reasons why we need to look again at our relationship with the EU.
The unfettered free movement of people within Europe has to come under the microscope. The result of David Cameron’s renegotiation will then be put to the people in a referendum. But that’s only if the Conservatives win the next General Election. The Lib Dems and Labour are clearly intent on denying the British people that choice. It’s a position I profoundly disagree with.
And after the 2014 conference season, I’m afraid the prospect of Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg teaming up to lead this country is more alarming than ever.