Tuesday, 27 September 2011

The British Political Conference Season - The Insider Media Perspective

We're in the middle of the political conference season. Ed Miliband will be delivering his keynote speech to the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool this afternoon following Nick Clegg's speech last week to the Liberal Democrat conference in Birmingham. Next week it will be David Cameron's turn in the Tory conference. Here in Wales, Plaid Cymru also had their annual autumn gathering two weeks ago.

Whilst I was in Birmingham last week, I spent a few hours at the bar in the company of one of Wales' political reporters. We had a good chat about all things political and rugby (it is World Cup season after all!) and I asked him how in his experience, did the different political party conferences compare. What he relayed to me gave a fascinating insight into a media perspective on these political gatherings.

He said that in his view the Liberal Democrat conference was a 'very nice' kind of gathering. The kind where delegates will drink a cup of tea and have a sandwich. Certainly more professional now that we're in government compared to how it was in years gone by but still with a sense of eccentricity about it. I can't really disagree with that! What interested me particularly though was his view on the conferences of the other parties as I have no insider knowledge of them.

When it came to the 'fun' stakes, he said the Labour Party conference, particularly in Wales, was the worst. It was tribal and from what he was implying, didn't have any redeeming features of which to speak. I suppose the inner-party rivalries and the factionalism that was rife during the latter part of their 13 years in power took its toll internally.  His take on the Plaid Cymru conference was interesting in that he said in recent years, particularly since they went into government in Cardiff in 2007, they had tried to become more professional themselves and had lost a lot of the 'fun' aspect that had been before. It is now apparently, a party conference that runs on media spin and policy soundbites more than ever before.

But it was his take on the Conservative conference which for me was the most interesting. The Conservative Conference he said was easily the most enjoyable. He said that it was their over the top exhuberance that made it so much more lively than any of the others. Whilst liberals might be drinking tea and eating sandwiches, Tories would be drinking champagne and dining much more lavishly. I suppose this is the Conservative way.

He said that out of all of the party conferences, the worst in his personal opinion as a neutral observer was the Labour conference. The Lib Dem and the Plaid Cymru conferences came in on about par with each other but the Conservative Party conference was far ahead of the rest.

I know of friends who visit all party conferences on behalf of their work, and it would be interesting to hear whether this is the kind of view also held by those working in the voluntary sector or in private enterprise. For whilst this is only one political reporters take on this rather unique and quirky part of British political life, it surely must resonate with others who have experienced the goings-on at all of the party conferences in recent years?

Personally, I'm just thankful that I don't have to attend them all. 5 days at the Liberal Democrat Federal Conference per year is more than enough for me. It is an exhausting few days and I don't know how those lobbyists who live on the conference circuit manage to do so!

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