The autumn political party conference season is upon us. Here is our guide to them.
What are party conferences?
They are the annual events where MPs, councillors and activists from the parties gather to hear their political leaders give platform speeches, to debate and vote on policies, discuss political intrigue and party into the night with like-minded souls.
So what actually happens?
Ministers, shadow ministers, frontbenchers and other leading lights in the parties make keynote speeches on the platforms. Some grassroots members also get the chance to speak and vote in many debates. Away from the set-piece debates there are fringe meetings - often in hotels near the conference centre - with more informal speeches and question and answer sessions. And activists crowd the bars, restaurants, dinners and drinks receptions late into the night.
Where are this year's big three conferences?
The Lib Dem conference is from Sunday 17 September to Thursday in Brighton. Labour gathers the following week in Manchester, breaking from the tradition of going to seaside venues. And the Conservatives meet in the first week of October in Bournemouth.
Who goes to them?
It is more than just politicians and party members. At each conference there is a huge exhibition hall where business, industries and other groups have stalls and use the opportunity to raise their profile and lobby political parties. Virtually the entire Westminster journalist corps also decamps to conferences.
What difference can the conferences make?
The extent to which party members and delegates have a say varies between the parties, but it is no longer the case that party members can vote through a policy which the leadership is then obligated to include in their next General Election manifesto. However conference performances can make or break a leader.
What's particularly on the agenda this year?
Leadership will be a dominating factor. It is Tony Blair's last Labour conference as leader - and some want him to go sooner than he plans. And it is David Cameron and Sir Menzies Campbell's first conferences at the helm of the Tories and Lib Dems.
What about policies at Labour?
The trade unions are expected to ensure their concerns on the privatisation of public services, pensions and job losses in manufacturing are debated. Nuclear power and the Trident missile system could also cause controversy.
And for the Lib Dems?
Tax is the big issue for the Lib Dems, with the leadership proposing income tax cuts funded by "green" taxes. There is also huge interest in the reception given to former leader Charles Kennedy.
Will we find out more about Conservative policies?
Quite possibly. The groups set up to advise on Tory policy are likely to give more details of their work, including plans for the NHS. The party will continue to discuss Mr Cameron's efforts to change the Conservatives' image.
Where can I find out more details?
The parties' websites have full details of the agendas. (see the links on the righthand side of this page).
What about other parties' conferences?
The Scottish National Party conference will be held from 11 to 14 October 2006 in Perth. Plaid Cymru's conference will be held in Swansea from 21 to 24 September.