Save the Children at the party conferences

Save the Children CEO Justin Forsyth (centre) is joined by Education Secretary Nicky Morgan and Chancellor George Osborne at the Conservative Party Conference
Save the Children CEO Justin Forsyth (centre) is joined by Education Secretary Nicky Morgan and Chancellor George Osborne at the Conservative Party Conference

Party conference season has ended and MPs have returned to Westminster for the parliamentary fun and games to resume. Conference is a key moment for Save the Children to engage with and influence politicians; so what have we learned about the current state of the parties and how our work resonates?

While the set-piece speeches, fringe events and gossip were all present and correct, the differences in feel, themes and narrative were stark.

Liberal Democrats in Bournemouth

The Lib Dems kicked things off in mid-September. We met with parliamentarians who welcomed our work on refugee resettlement and UK child literacy, while new leader Tim Farron gave an enthusiastic speech calling for greater support for refugees which received little attention outside the conference bubble.

Labour’s “straight talking, honest politics”

Save the Children Director of Campaigns Kirsty Mcneil (second left) at Labour Party Conference with (l-r) Dan Jarvis MP, Tristram Hunt MP and ITV News presenter Natasha Kaplinsky

In contrast, the media frenzy hit Labour conference in full force, with delegates, spectators and even party MPs speculating on the controversial new leader’s approach to conference.

Jeremy Corbyn’s pitch was for a “straight talking, honest politics.” His speech that was resolutely anti-austerity, and touched on UK poverty and human rights issues abroad.

At our evening reception, Dan Jarvis MP, the former Shadow Foreign Office Minister paid tribute to our work to push the government to restart the rescue in the Mediterranean and questioned the government’s stance on unaccompanied refugee children already in Europe.

ITV News presenter Natasha Kaplinsky described her role as a Save the Children Ambassador as “one of the most important things I do,” while former Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt MP said that reaching children early to improve their early language skills is vital if they’re to read well – a key message of our Read On. Get On. campaign.

Save the Children Director of Campaigns Kirsty Mcneil (second left) at Labour Party Conference with Dan Jarvis MP, Tristram Hunt MP and ITV News presenter Natasha Kaplinsky
Save the Children Director of Campaigns Kirsty McNeill (second left) at Labour Party Conference with (l-r) Dan Jarvis MP, Tristram Hunt MP and ITV News presenter and Save the Children Ambassador Natasha Kaplinsky

The Conservative pitch for the centre ground

Given the election result we expected to find a triumphant atmosphere at Conservative Conference, yet serious themes of security, stability and opportunity dominated.

The Tories clearly intend to occupy the centre ground, making the most of what they consider to be the opportunity presented by Labour’s lurch to the left to directly appeal to Labour moderates.

In declaring a war on poverty and inequality the Prime Minister did exactly that.

It was fantastic to see  Chancellor George Osborne, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and Prime Minister David Cameron stating their support for the 0.7% aid budget in their key speeches.

At our evening reception in partnership with ConservativeHome, the Education Secretary Nicky Morgan congratulated Save the Children for the Read On. Get On. campaign, adding that she believes literacy is a social justice issue.

And thanks partly to our work to make the case for aid the Chancellor gave a strong statement on 0.7%, saying that the argument is finally being won.

SNP – the ‘Real opposition in Westminster’

At the SNP conference we learned that they see themselves as the Westminster opposition party.

Speakers criticised the UK government’s ‘slow and inadequate’ response to the refugee crisis, and in meetings MPs supported our calls to relocate unaccompanied refugee children in Europe.

We were delighted to see leader, Nicola Sturgeon, make childcare a key theme of her speech and pledge to recruit a new early years teacher to every nursery in disadvantaged areas by 2018 – a major development in line with our policy recommendations.

What next?

Across all four conferences, we saw our campaigns resonate with parliamentarians who wanted to know more and show their support.

Over the coming months we’ll capitalise on new and strengthened relationships with the parties to ensure our advocacy makes progress for those left behind at home and abroad.

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