I have just booked my pass for the Conservative Party conference. Last year there was some controversy around how few real-life members attended, with the majority of events being run and packed out with public affairs professionals. I remember one fringe event on the economy – sponsored by Guernsey – where one of the four panel members’ answer to every question was: “I’m afraid I cannot comment on that situation, but I can tell you how great Guernsey is”. Now I did appreciate the free lunch so corporate sponsored events are not all bad (a special mention should go to the “I love Luton buffet”). I’m also very happy for the Party to make some money to go into the election fighting fund but there needs to be some balance.
This may be my last ever Conference as I’m not sure that I will be able to justify spending the time and money again. Even though the Conservative Party has created a nice micro-site to help members find good hotel deals the cost for me to attend Conference is likely to be around £450, and that doesn’t count the sacrifice of holiday time. The commitment normal members have to make is not an insignificant one, even if they do not bring in as many pounds as corporate attendees.
While trying to reduce the cost of attending Conference is a good thing the Party should also look at making sure that members get value, and feel appreciated.
Here are some ideas about what could be done:
1) Each day one hour of the hall time should be given over to an issue chosen by polling members who are going to attend. It doesn’t matter if the subject is about leaving the EU or bringing back capital punishment, what counts is that members can talk about what they want to. Each day five members can make a 10 minute speech on any aspect of the chosen subject.
2) One of the Fringe spaces should be a “members room”, which will host debates and networking events that are chosen by different parts of the Conservative family.
3) David Cameron should do a Q&A at an event where only those with members passes are allowed to attend.