Party Conference is often seen as the highlight of the political calendar. It isn’t often that members from across the country meet in one place, to listen to the cabinet, share opinions, and meet new people. This year was my first time going to Conference. Although it was not quite what I expected it to be, it was certainly a memorable experience, and one that I hope to repeat again in the future.
There are two main parts to Conference; the speakers in the main auditorium, where the Secretaries of State and other prominent politicians give their speeches across four days, and fringe events, covering nearly every topic relevant to modern politics. Everyone has different interests, but personally I was the most keen on the Young Conservative events, and watching the high profile politicians. Saying that, I ended up at such a variety of fringe events on topics I knew little about, but that’s all just part of the event.
What surprised me and other people at Conference was the lack of excitement surrounding the Conference speeches by the Secretaries of State. Maybe people are tired of Brexit, and wanted to go to fringe events where they knew Brexit wouldn’t come up. Maybe there wasn’t enough information about potential big announcements during the speeches (although there weren’t any significant announcements, again perhaps as a result of Brexit), resulting in speeches that while interesting, weren’t memorable afterwards. Maybe members aren’t as engaged with the current cabinet as they have been in previous years, resulting in not having the same interest in watching them in person.
What was noticeable was the Boris effect. Despite technically being only a backbencher, his fringe event had people queuing for well over an hour to hear him talk, while the main auditorium was nearly empty at the same time. Boris was what every journalist wanted to talk about, and who members wanted to see. Everyone wanted to know exactly what he was going to do. No one realistically expected him to make a leadership bid, but that didn’t stop the talk about what he would do.
However, Boris was not the only person being talked about within the context of leadership. Several of the other Secretaries of State seemed to be making speeches that perhaps could be seen as lining themselves up for a leadership bid, when the time comes. I found Jeremy Hunt was the most notable during the Conference, but undoubtedly there were others too. In the fast paced world of politics, who knows when the next leadership election will be, or who will be interested at that time, but with the current situation, I would be very surprised if Hunt didn’t give it a go.
There is so much more that could be discussed about Conference, and I plan to write another article focusing on the fringe events rather than the speeches. However, for anyone who is interested in finding out more, my biggest recommendation is to buy a ticket and go next October. Although not what I was expecting, the event was fascinating, and I certainly will be going back again.