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Page last updated at 10:55 GMT, Wednesday, 26 September 2007 11:55 UK

Conference is not just a party

Jeremy Wright MP
Conservative, Rugby & Kenilworth

Jeremy Wright
The drink is the best reason I can think of not to make party policy at your conference. It is plentiful and much of it is free.
Jeremy Wright MP

This week, I am off to the seaside for that unmistakeable blend of salty air and policy that is the party conference.

This is my third conference as a Member of Parliament and it is a very different experience compared to those I attended before being elected.

Some things are the same of course - the Conservative Party insists on holding its conference at the beginning of October so as to coincide with the hurricane season in Blackpool.

If you haven't thrown away three broken umbrellas by the end of the conference week, you haven't done it properly.

The main difference though is that when you are trying to become an MP, you go to conference hoping to meet people.

Thrown together

Neil Kinnock
Once in politics... always in...

Once you have become one, you go to conference hoping not to meet people. Party conferences - and I imagine this applies equally to all the political parties - are a bit like family Christmases.

You are thrown together annually with some people it's great to reminisce with, with whom you have so much in common, and with others who remind you quickly why you only see them once a year.

Then there is the drink. The drink is the best reason I can think of not to make party policy at your conference. It is plentiful and much of it is free.

Tube at rush hour

Almost every organisation you have heard of (and quite a few you haven't) bombards you with invitations to have a glass of something at their expense while they lobby you on their own area of interest.

By the third or fourth reception (and therefore seventh or eighth drink of the evening), they may as well not bother.

Ah, but it is the atmosphere you go for - quite similar to the underground at rush hour if they still allowed smoking.
Jeremy Wright MP

Of course, if you want the authentic conference experience, in this case very much like the 'tube at rush hour' experience, you need to do your drinking in the bar of the conference hotel.

This will be small and by 10pm every evening will have the entire Conservative Party in it, plus journalists.

The fact that everyone is there to be seen is ironic since no-one can see you through the crowds, including the person bringing you the round of drinks it has just taken them two hours to buy.

Model of democracy

Gordon Brown
And it's not just politics at the Conference

Ah, but it is the atmosphere you go for - again quite similar to the underground at rush hour if they still allowed smoking.

As you can tell, there's a lot of fun to be had at party conference. But there is a serious point to all this.

Political parties - elected representatives, employees and volunteers - only really get together at conferences, which are therefore the only opportunities for Conservatives to discuss the direction the party should be taking and to reaffirm what brings us together within it.

Given the importance of political parties in sustaining the British model of democracy, I think those opportunities are valuable.

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