Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and is a commentator for CNN.
What a strange conference that was. Given the content of the sessions that took place in the main auditorium, you could be forgiven thinking that there were some people at the top of the party who would rather it hadn’t taken place at all.
I’ve been going to Conservative conferences since 1985, and I think there are only two in that period I have missed. It’s a form of masochism, I suppose. But I can never remember a conference where the sessions only started at 10am and finished before 5pm. The normal running times have always been 9.30-5.30.
I’m told that people in Number Ten tried to cancel the whole thing, but rowed back when they understood the financial consequences. I do think the Party needs to conduct a root and branch review into the future of party conferences.
They can’t just be looked at as an opportunity to earn money. What is the actual point of them apart from that? Are they rallies, are they just opportunities for Party members to be told what the government is doing, or should they switch back to being real exercises in consulting Party members on future policy ideas?
There was supposed to be a lot more opportunity for party members to get involved with the panel sessions, but this usually had to be done via an App, rather than spontaneously from a microphone. I chaired two different sessions and I have to say most of the questions submitted via the app were so inane as to be unaskable. I suspect the dead hand of censorship might have been involved somewhere along the line.
The only session which did provoke a bit of controversy was the ‘Meet the Chairmen’ session on Sunday afternoon, where I gave James Cleverly and Ben Elliot a good grilling, as did members of the audience. And I think both they and the audience enjoyed it. Conference needs to have a bit of risk about it. If you try and run a conference without risk, it becomes anodyne and boring.
No wonder the hall is half empty for a good proportion of the time. People find the Fringe much more , would rather spend time in the exhibition hall gossiping rather than be bored rigid by a series of tedious, autocued speeches from a bunch of boring Cabinet Ministers. Even Priti Patel couldn’t quite fill the hall. There were even a few empty seats near the front during Boris Johnson’s speech.
– – – – – – – – – –
Boris Johnson’s conference speech was very different to those of previous leaders. For one thing, it only lasted for some 35 minutes – way shorter than usual. He didn’t use those awful gigantic autocue screens secreted at the back of the hall which virtually every other speaker had read from. Thank God for small mercies. Two small glass screes in front of the podium are one thing, but the giant screens are an obscenity which should be banished forthwith.
There was precious little new in his speech, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. He spent time explaining his new proposals to the EU, and then outlined what the Government’s priorities would be after Brexit.
I was encouraged by the section in which he said it was important to look at how to encourage areas outside London to thrive and expand. There are a lot of areas in this country with hidden levels of poverty, and they feel left behind.
Many of them are on the coast. North Norfolk is considered by most people as a lovely, pretty area populated by quaint market towns, but there are lots of areas where poverty levels can be compared with some of our inner cities. Many people in these areas voted Brexit to send politicians a message. Enough. I’m glad that the Prime Minister seems to have heard the message loud and clear.
– – – – – – – – – –
One thing will stick in my mind from this week’s conference and that’s the fact that I could barely walk twenty yards without being stopped by someone asking for a selfie or telling me they love my LBC show.
Believe it or not, I am quite a shy person (I know, I know), and I never quite know what to say to people who tell me they love what I do. Of course, I say thank you, and it’s much appreciated, but I often feel I leave people feeling a bit underwhelmed because I can’t think what else to say!
And quite how I was supposed to respond to the people who marched up to me telling me they loved me… well… suffice to say, I didn’t reach for their thigh…
There was one amusing incident, though. I was having a fairly in-depth chat with a friend who works at CCHQ when a lady decided it was quite OK to break in and try to engage me in conversation. I explained, perfectly politely, that I was talking to someone, and would she mind waiting a moment until I had finished my current conversation? She marched off blustering about how rude I had been. Self-knowledge is a wonderful thing, isn’t it?