Suppose you were in charge of a Scottish political party with, say, 120,000 members. Suppose that party was in government.
Suppose you’d made a bit of an arse of things. Maybe you’d tried to introduce a policy that was extremely controversial. Or there’d been some scandal which, although fairly minor, was blown out of all proportion by your political opponents and the media scum-pack. Or maybe there was another potential scandal looming. Or maybe you’d failed to honour some long-standing and crucially important commitment.
Suppose you were anticipating a certain amount of backlash from a significant number of members. Suppose you were aware of how forceful and forthright many of the party members could be.
Suppose you wanted to avoid a situation where a large group of these dissenting members are gathered in one place in such numbers as might make it difficult to prevent this dissent becoming publicly visible.
Suppose all of this. Then suppose it’s coming up to that time of year when the party holds a conference. Suppose these conferences are normally attended by well over 2,000 delegates and almost as many non-delegate members as well as a massive contingent from the world’s media.
Suppose you’re shitting yourself.
Suppose, having cleaned yourself up and changed your pants and switched on the fan to dispel the odour, you started thinking about what might be done to prevent or, at least, reduce the likelihood of further shit making an appearance – perhaps in precarious proximity to that fan.
First off, postpone! You’re really good at that. Postponing and prevaricating and delaying are all parts of your skillset. It’s an iron rule of political party management – and of politics in general for that matter – that the things which are most urgent are the things you most want and need to put off. Postpone and plan. Even if it’s only planning another postponement. Hell! The entire party organisation is geared up for a strategy of waiting. Postponing a conference should be a dawdle.
You’ve already got tight control of the agenda, so there’s not much more you can do in that area. There’s already been rumblings about the ratio of debate to theatre. Probably best not fill even more time with set-piece events. How to cut the time for debate even more and so reduce the number of opportunities for someone to get up on the platform and say something unscripted by you and your team?
How about cutting the conference from three days to one! That’ll do it!
But that doesn’t solve the problem of a large number of members gathered in one place at the same time and the risk that this might create a critical mass of dissenters. Slashing the duration of the conference should put off a few folk. But it’s not likely to deter the trouble-makers – or “activists” as they like to call themselves.
How about moving the venue to some remote location. Not the islands. That would be too obvious. Knoydart? Applecross? Might be worth having someone check the availability of venues in those locations. Obviously, they wouldn’t have to be large venues. The smaller the better, really. Then again, we must cater to the media. You need to get the right balance between inconveniencing the delegates and keeping the journalists whatever it is they have instead of happy. Drunk?
Got it! Aviemore! Perfect!. Well… nor perfect, exactly. St Kilda would have been better. But it’ll have to do.
You’ve postponed, curtailed and distanced the conference. What else can you do? Pray for an outbreak of some virulent viral infection, perhaps?
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