Conservative Diary

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The party conference

Chairing a fringe meeting at Party Conference earlier in the week I was struck by the amount of agreement that was greeting a left-wing NGO's views on poverty. There were a handful of dissenters but only a handful. The explanation became clear when I asked for questions. Question after question came from other NGOs, charities and quasi government bodies. I actually recognised a good number of the questioners from the previous week's Labour Party Conference.

The next day I learnt from Dan Hannan's blog that only 4,000 of the 12,000 people registered for the Conference were party members. Later I was told that the number of Tory members was closer to 4,500.  The number of journalists equalled about 2,000. That leaves a lot of lobbyists, charities and so on. The fees from these non-party registrants contributed to a reported £1.5m profit from the Conference. Quite a handy sum and, of course, very welcome.

There are a number of reasons why the number of party members going to Party Conference remains relatively low:

  • The move away from seaside resorts to Birmingham and Manchester. Birmingham and Manchester are excellent venues but they are much more expensive to stay in than a Bournemouth or Blackpool B&B.  In our pre-Conference poll, by 44% to 34% members agreed that "It is now much too expensive to attend Party Conference since the move away from the seaside towns of Blackpool and Bournemouth and to the major cities of Birmingham and Manchester."
  • The move back to a fully weekday programme. This Conference was a Monday to Thursday affair; making it harder for working people.
  • The dull programme on the main stage. Nick Robinson wrote about this problem yesterday.
  • The fringe programme has also become duller. Corporate sponsorship of events is now the norm but it seems to encourage safer topics from those sponsored. The Freedom Zone - run by the gentlemen of gentlemen, Simon Richards - served for the second year running as the fringe of thefringe. I might even suggest The True Fringe. You must organise it again next year Simon. Please!

We all need to put our thinking heads on as to how we can reverse these trends.

Tim Montgomerie


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