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Memories of conferences past: Don Porter recalls how he kept the conference show on the road in 2003

Don Porter 2 Don Porter was a member of the Conservative Party Board between 2000 and 2009 and is now chairman of Conservative Way Forward.

My first Conference was 1972.  I attended as a student from Lancaster University.  Pre-security days, there was  no queuing to enter the Conference hotel, no Conference pass required; you could just walk in off the street and observe the Prime Minister at close quarters with no security pass.

Over the last nine years, I have seen Conference preparation from a closer perspective during the time I have been on the Board of the Party.

Those nine years, all in opposition, have seen a transformation in morale and motivation.  The early years were challenging times, with much hard work behind the scenes to attract respectable numbers and keep morale at a reasonable level.  Even in those times, it was a great privilege working with the then Leader and Party Chairman, William Hague and Michael Ancram: always positive and focused on the challenge ahead.

One Conference stands out.  2003 was the Conference I chaired as President of the National Convention.  I had the idea of a quality reception on the floor of the Winter Gardens and wanted to call it "Celebrating Success".  We didn’t have a great deal to celebrate - but I was determined to raise morale.  The Conference company we had used for many years said it would not be possible: too much work in removing the chairs following the afternoon session; they asked what would happen if we only sold a couple of hundred tickets - would the Leader and Shadow Cabinet attend?

I was determined to proceed.  The evening was a sell-out with 1,200 people attending with the Leader and Shadow Cabinet.  Quality champagne properly chilled, actors, magicians and other artists provided entertaiment: a great success.

On arrival at Blackpool's Imperial Hotel for that same Conference, I was discreetly told by a professional colleague that I should prepare for a change of Leader that week.  Again, I was determined that would not happen.  It would be far too damaging to our Party during our Conference week.  Once again, it did not happen.  A great deal happened behind the scenes to ensure we ended the week largely in tact.

This year, how very different: morale and motivation high; a united Party; events sold out and over-subscribed; a determination to win next year.  Long may this continue - enjoy Conference.


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