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Memories of conferences past: Michael Brown reflects on four decades of party conferences

Michael Brown 2009 During the conference week, a variety of figures will share their reflections of previous Conservative Party conferences. The series kicks off here with some thoughts from Michael Brown, who was a Conservative MP between 1979 and 1997 and is now a columnist for The Independent.

This will be my 37th Conservative conference. I have attended nearly every one since Ted Heath's victory conference in 1970 when I was a second year Tory student at York University.

I missed 1972 when, having graduated in the summer of that year, I began my job as a Barclays Bank cashier and was, as yet, not entitled to any holiday. The 1974 conference was cancelled because of the October general election that month and I missed the 1997 election because, following my defeat at that year's general election, William Hague had expelled me from the Conservative Party as a consequence of my association with the Neil Hamilton Tory sleaze affair.

Since then, however, I have attended 36 Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative conferences. By the end of this week I will have attended a total of 61 party conferences - enough for any lifetime.

My first Conservative conference, in 1970, stands out as it was a year when the Tories won a general election. I was in the second week of my second year at York University and was called to speak in the economics debate: I was never, ever, called again.

The 1979 Thatcher victory conference stands out because I had been an MP for only five months and I recall being totally unbearable in the eyes of my peers in the bars and hotels. I had previously been barred by Central Office from the candidates' list but made the most of getting elected as the MP for Brigg and Scunthorpe as the youngest Tory MP. That was my first payback conference. (The other was 1998, when after my electoral defeat the previous year, I re-appeared as a journalist for The Independent, from where, clanking my chains from the electoral grave, I have been haunting all three political party conferences ever since).

Frankly, most party conferences I have attended have been distinctly unmemorable. Either the lashings of alcohol or old age have dulled the memory. More likely, the speeches have simply faded with the autumn leaves.

However, Brighton 1981 stands out for the thousands of protesters outside: some of them got inside and heckled Margaret Thatcher when she delivered her "U-turn if you want to, the Lady's not for turning" speech. Similarly, 1984 - the Brighton bomb conference - stands out. My dogs were, illicitly, staying with me and their barking woke me up. I did not know of the catastrophic events outside but was frightened that the hotel manager would expel us because of the dogs' noise.

Since then I vaguely remember 2000 when half the shadow cabinet admitted having taken illegal drugs and 2003 when IDS got 17 standing ovations, leading to his demise as party leader a few weeks later.

The rest are a blur - let's hope this week stands out for the right reasons.


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