Since the Victorian times, party conferences have been a permanent fixture in the political calendar. Often held in a seaside town because few places in the country can accommodate so many visitors at once, in later years conferences became a real money spinner for the political parties. Space at conferences can cost eye watering sums – the Conservatives even charge for handing out leaflets within the secure zone. The income goes a long way to paying for the running costs at campaign headquarters in the months ahead and without it, they are staring at a big black hole on their balance sheet. In terms of performance, Labour insiders are delighted with how their conference season went in terms of fixing some of their internal issues and landing a serious, if not lengthy speech. Of course, the way they use their conference is slightly different to the Conservatives – for them it’s not just a jamboree but a place where rule changes happen. Plus, there is the generous airtime that accompanies a conference gathering, beamed in to viewers at home via the 24-hour news channels and radio coverage which is also useful if people still don’t warm to the party leader or know enough about him.
The PM’s speech was light on content but had the hall cheering from the rafters regardless.
Conferences are riskier for the governing party who are not short of coverage – after all, Boris can command it at his fingertips (and as it goes, so can Michael Gove on the dancefloor…) so it’s easy to understand why there is more to lose and why conferences can be more of a pain than a pleasure. It’s also a huge distraction away from actually running the country – it’s not as if they don’t have enough on their plate already. The Conservative conference was about projecting optimism about the future, against what they call Labour’s pessimistic outlook. The PM’s speech was light on content but had the hall cheering from the rafters regardless.