Party Conference season: the hunters and the farmers on both sides make their case

My colleague Claire Rowney has introduced me to a new concept: all brilliant fundraising teams need to be a mix of farmers and hunters. Farmers cultivate and ensure a reliable harvest. Hunters are risk-takers, sometimes bringing home enough for a feast but reliant on the farmers because they sometimes return empty handed. It struck me that political parties could learn something here, adding this to the mix of considerations for reshuffles alongside the already multi-dimensional chess of balancing backgrounds, regions and factions.

At both major party conferences the hunters and farmers made their case. At Labour’s Liverpool session some – like DFID shadow Kate Osamor – were on the hunt, making a play for support with plenty of what Simon Maxwell calls Big New Ideas, like giving the department a dual mandate of fighting both poverty and inequality. She is leading an impressive brains trust and together the thinkers of Labour’s anti-imperialist intellectual tradition are making the running on foreign policy, sometimes in direct repudiation of the farmers who dominated the last Labour government and focussed on reforming globalisation by grinding out change from institutions like NATO and the IMF that they saw as partners rather than targets.

Meanwhile, at Conservative conference, the government showed their own cleavage between the farmers who want to deliver sensible policies with the minimum of fuss and the hunters who think the fuss is the fun. In the former camp is DFID Secretary of State Penny Mourdant who played a blinder in Birmingham, whether cleverly ceding her time on conference floor to aid workers or her CV-burnishing gag at Save the Children’s annual reception. In the second is the former Foreign Secretary who mounted a bizarre campaign to get money meant for saving children to be spent on helping the elephants. Laura Taylor at Christian Aid has already taken that apart in the Guardian and our own Al Russell has a thread explaining why it would represent not just a betrayal of the world’s poor but of the British taxpayer too. There were plenty of heavyweight panels at conference about how to combine investment and reform (and it was great to see consensus running from the Taxpayers’ Alliance through to these twelve MPs that the real debate is about how not whether to engage in international development) but it was striking that this particular proposal failed to attract any serious support.

We’ve written elsewhere about what the domestic side of Save the Children was watching out for at conference but we also wanted to make sure the news from Yemen and Indonesia made it in to the airless rooms of convention centres. The conference circuit couldn’t feel further from our work on the frontline, but it’s our job to make sure they inform each other. So today I’ll be thinking of my colleagues setting up emergency responses in the world’s toughest places, while trying to persuade both the hunters and the farmers of British politics that it’s only in combining their talents that they can deliver for the kids who need a Global Britain the most.

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