Comment Writers Mia Brown and Simon Jones give an insight into the inner workings of the Conservative Party Conference
As a Young Conservative, attending party conference is a highlight in the political calendar. However, it is not simply what the media portrays as extensive ministerial speeches in the main auditorium. Although this is an integral part to the conference, which allows insight into government achievements and future policy plans, there is so much more to the event.
Over 100 fringe events take place during a day, discussing all areas of policy, featuring guest speakers and allowing for audience engagement and questioning. This type of event opens up wider debate that does not necessarily stay within party politics and broadens the spectrum of opinion, whilst educating on the overall scope of many issues within both the party as well as society on the whole.
An example of this was an event we attended, hosted by the Centre for Social Justice titled “Is the Conservative Party making work pay?”. The panel included: Rt Hon Iain Duncan Smith MP; Rt Hon Esther McVey MP, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions; and Tim Martin, Chairman of JD Wetherspoons. These speakers developed throughout the event not only a conservative platform, but deeper discussion surrounding potential solutions to poverty, and the future of the job market, as well as how we can make society work for the poorest in it. The panel also discussed how a corporatist economy drained resources from the working class and benefitted the wealthiest people in society. Not only discussing solutions to this at the event, the panel offered policy proposals for the future. Additionally, the intimacy of the event also enabled more of the personalities behind the politics to come through, with Iain Duncan Smith coming across as particularly witty. With regards to engagement and discussion, fringe events are the place to be, as ministerial speeches often appear as a political grandstanding with media coverage, and fringes offer enlightenment to the future of the party.
Networking is a key aspect of Party Conference, offering the opportunity to engage with other members of all ages and backgrounds, and creating a framework of contacts to enable young conservatives to flourish. CCHQ (Conservative Campaign Headquarters) provide outreach campaigns, targeted at young people to offer them the resources they require to aid future political careers. This can range from contacts with MPs, journalists, councillors, political advisors, and members from other universities, who can offer support to help gain further experience. Furthermore, these connections with other members are strengthened with all the social events that take place. Following a Youth Reception hosted by CCHQ that took place at conference, from meeting members of other universities, they joined our university’s bar crawl, hosted by UoBC. This proved the unity of members across the national party, as well as gaining insight to the scope of diversity within the members of the party of all ages. The social aspect of conference was probably the most useful, simply due to the great extent of opportunity for career progression and the interesting debate that can be held between two party members, broadening our political perceptions.
Linking with the networking, as well as the work of CCHQ, this year’s conference offered training events as part of the ‘Conservative Academy’, targeting and focussing specifically on the future generation of the party. As part of the Young Conservatives organisation and campaign, one event we attended was ‘Being a Young Councillor’, which offered guidance on how to run your own campaign, and the importance of young representation in councillor elections. The panel held a range of young conservatives who offered their experiences as both candidates and councillors, and covered the responsibilities involved. This was an extremely insightful event that inspired us to stand for future council elections, and make a positive difference to our communities.
The Conservative Party Conference is much more than what it appears on the outside. Beyond the protests, speeches and the mere oversight from mass media, the experience offers such a wide range of opportunities that promotes the engagement of the next generation of Conservatives. Aside from the main events that we all see on the TV and in the news, and as exciting as Theresa May’s dance moves were, party conference is made by the fringe events, the new people you meet, and the knowledge you gain by exploring all it has to offer.