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Last Updated: Friday, 15 September 2006, 15:55 GMT 16:55 UK
South: Politics-on-Sea
Peter Henley
Peter Henley, Politics Editor
The Politics Show, BBC South

Although we're in Brighton and the sea may look inviting, the tempreature in the foamy brine is none too warm... but the Lib Dem conference has been hot at times...

Wednesday 20 September 11:07 BST
Peter Henley writes...

Mark Oaten
Holiday arrangements will need to be re-assessed no doubt...

Who will replace Mark Oaten?

It's a question many are asking in Brighton this week.

The candidate to fight the Winchester seat is already being advertised - and there will be fierce competition to be selected in a seat that Mark held with a substantial majority and where the party at least is still held in high esteem.

So who's in the frame...

Now the selection process is underway potential candidates are not allowed to talk to the likes of me.. but on the grapevine I hear former journalist Ben Stoneham is a front-runner.

He was director of Lib Dem HQ for Charles Kennedy's election campaign.

Someone else with a strong interest is said to be Oxfordshire entrepreneur Liz Leffman, who stood in 2005 against David Cameron. Outside money ranges from big party donor Paul Marshall through to local blog campaigner Martin Tod.

The odds are shortening already.

Talking of Mr Oaten, the news that Thailand had been hit by a military coup provoked gales of laughter in some parts of the bar last night.

It was not a callous lack of sympathy with the democratically elected Thai government - many delegates knew that's where Mark and Belinda had chosen to escape during the conference period.

Trouble seems to follow some people around...


Wednesday 20 September 10:10 BST
Ian Paul writes...

Vollyball players
Time for a quick game before the next meeting...

Sometimes people have to be a bit imaginative about getting their fringe events noticed.

Like the ladies doing tai chi outside the conference centre to publicise their campaign against alleged organ farming in China.

Or the beach volleyball. Which is there to draw delegates' attention to the advantages of good health.

Though to be honest most were more interested in the advantages of fish and chips.

And this being the Lib Dems, skimpy bikinis were definitely out.


Tuesday 19 September 11:00 BST
Ian Paul writes...

Chris Huhne
Will he have time for lunch before the next speech?

Here a Huhne, there a Huhne

They see him here, they see him there, they see that Chris Huhne everywhere...

Hard to find an MP here with a higher profile than the member for Eastleigh.

Politics Show South has undertaken an exhaustive survey (we leafed through the Conference Guide) and can exclusively reveal that in addition to one major speech and one summing up, he is appearing at no fewer than 12 fringe debates.

A busier schedule than if he had won the party leadership...


Monday 18 September 16:38 BST
Ian Paul writes...

telescope
Always on the lookout for the political gossip at the conferences!

Pick your fringe

One of the most important things to get right at any party conference is which fringe events you go to.

Particularly at lunchtime, when those events offering "refreshments" suddenly have much more attractive topics

Hence, (partly) my attendance at the Guardian debate.

They were discussing "whither the Lib Dems" - which in some form or another always gets asked at this party's conference.

But then often the topic of the fringe is the least important aspect.

Once the panel's prepared speeches are out of the way, it gets thrown open to the floor, and that is when you really find out what the party activists are worried about.

In this case, it was very illuminating.

We had a question about how to persuade voters who enjoy cheap foreign holidays and maybe drive the kids to school in a 4x4 that they would like to vote Lib Dem.

That plays to their worries that their planned tough green taxes which they will be debating tomorrow will play badly with a lot of voters.

Then there was a related worry that, by raising the awareness of green issues, they are maybe just helping along the Green vote.

By the strangest coincidence the Green Party starts its conference in Hove, just down the road, on Thursday as the Lib Dems are wrapping theirs up.

Now, let us see who is offering "refreshments" at the evening fringes - and interesting topics, of course...


Sunday 17 September 11:00 BST
Peter Henley writes...

Norman Baker MP
Norman Baker MP... or is it?

Brighton conferences have an extra ingredient not normally seen at political events.

The chanting of football fans always seems strangely out of place.

But Brighton and Hove Albion's need for a new stadium has driven them to march past the conference hall each year, imploring our MPs to notice their plight.

This year there is particular strength to their annoyance however.

They blame the Liberal Democrat council in Lewes for holding up the building plan with a legal challenge.

Chief hate figure for the fans of the seagulls is Sussex MP Norman Baker.

And I've heard of desperate plans being made by the Chief Steward to make sure Mr Baker gets into and out of the conference hall unharmed.

They're casing the back entrances and exits for a secure arrival.

"We'll take him in under a blanket if we have to," my source told me. "We might even resort to some sort of disguise."

So above, you will see my suggestion for a way Norman Baker might go unrecognised!

If you have any more you would like to pass on, do drop me an e-mail by the form below...


Saturday 16 September 16:00 BST
Peter Henley writes...

Invitations
Which is the hottest invite in town..?

Some of the best things about the conference season are the fringe events.

Most you can just walk into, but the best are those where you need to have been invited.

About this time those invitations start to arrive - and you can tell a lot about the effort that has gone into the event from the state of that essential piece of card:

1. Expensive gold-edged ones on card that won't bend without creasing indicate wine and vol-au-vents somewhere along the line - probably worth a stop on the way to a more exciting venue.

2. Glossy invites that look like brochures really ARE brochures. You'll be packed in to a converted meeting room with exhibition stands and PRs desperate to sell you something.

3. The best invitations are often the smallest. A scrap of paper cut by hand from a photocopied sheet of A4 is likely to lead to the more secretive, radical gathering and the strongest stories for the next morning.

Some invitations come in threes, one for each political persuasion, and there are subtle adjustments for the prejudices of each party.

The British Council call the Tory bash a "cocktail reception".

The Labour design is funkier - shining out with ethnically diverse faces.

They didn't bother with the Lib Dems.

The best invitations tend to be word of mouth.

There's usually one hot event each night - THE place to be. Finding it is a simple matter of following the crush - whether you've got the right ticket or not.

Then there's the small matter of blagging your way in...


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