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Last Updated: Saturday, 17 September 2005, 07:05 GMT 08:05 UK
Lembit's conference party guide
By Brian Wheeler
BBC News politics reporter

It all looks terribly serious on television - but for many delegates party conference season is also conference party season.

Lembit Opik
Lib Dems don't throw great parties for each other, says Mr Opik

An excuse to network, meet old friends, gossip, plot and, just occasionally, get outrageously drunk and commit any number of indiscretions.

And the Liberal Democrats, who gather in Blackpool this weekend, are, according to harmonica-playing party veteran Lembit Opik MP, no exception.

Here is the Montgomeryshire member's guide to the best - and worst - of the Lib Dem party scene.

Who throws the best Liberal Democrat parties?

Anyone but the Liberal Democrats, according to Mr Opik. "It is all the people who want us to like them. We don't throw very good parties for each other," he says.

The Scotch Whisky Association get-together is always popular, for obvious reasons. And financial news service Bloomberg's cocktail parties always go down well.

But the BBC end-of-conference party on a Wednesday evening is the must-have invite of the week, according to Mr Opik.

We all miss Paddy's story - it was always the same one, but we laughed anyway because he was the leader
Lembit Opik

The nightmare scenario is hosting a party yourself - especially when it falls flat.

"You might be hosting a debate on sludge removal from the Thames estuary and nobody shows up because there is a better event going on at the same time. Your heart sinks."

What are the key ingredients of a good conference party?

1. "Good booze" - although Mr Opik stresses the importance of not overdoing it every night. Delegates, he notes, "are more careful these days" and you have to plan your conference season "like a military operation".

2. Good food - best to avoid "conference canapé syndrome", says Mr Opik.

3. Good names - "However cool delegates think they are they still want to see recognisable names from the telly and the big newspaper editors," says Mr Opik. Independent editor Simon Kelner is hosting a debate on Monday evening.

What - and who - should you avoid?

According to Mr Opik, anyone suffering from what he calls "Adhesive Delegate Syndrome".

These are the people who stick to your side at parties and receptions, take the whole thing too seriously and "insist on telling you their plan for world peace when you are trying to get a cocktail from the Bloomberg bar".

He adds: "You have to work out who you want to network with," says Lembit, "and make sure you don't waste their time when you see them". You don't want to suffer from ADS, after all.

What is the dream Lib Dem party guest list?

"It would be hosted by Nelson Mandela. Guests might include Bill Clinton, Robbie Williams and Michael Douglas.

"Charles Kennedy would do a speech and be in charge of the barbecue serving meat and vegetarian food."

What are this year's hottest tickets?

The Lib Dem Glee Club is always a popular stop-off on the party circuit.

This is where party workers and backbenchers get to send up their bosses with sketches and comic songs - a chance says Mr Opik to prove the "Lib Dems have a sense of humour".

Charles Kennedy, who as usual is hosting his own drinks party for senior journalists, is never seen at the Glee Club, apparently - unlike his predecessor Paddy Ashdown who would always regale his colleagues with a funny story. The same funny story.

"We all miss Paddy's story. It was always the same one, but we laughed anyway because he was the leader," says Mr Opik.




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