James Gray MP with representatives from Google and The Countryside Alliance Foundation
James with representatives of 1st The Queen's Dragoon Guards during a Welcome Home Event for 20th Armoured Brigade
James Gray MP welcoming representatives of 20th Armoured Brigade to Parliament
James at The Springfields Academy
My Presbyterian minister Father used to say that “the only point in going to a Conference was to get drunk – a difficult task for a teetotaller!” Well, we are now into our fourth week of the Party Conferences and I sometimes wonder whether much has been added to the sum total of human happiness as a result.
In the old days, the Conference was the occasion for all of the party activists to get together in some out-of-season seaside resort to chew over policy matters. Much of it was in private: motions were moved, votes taken. Not now. The Conference now is pretty much of a media and lobbyist-driven bonanza.
Thousands of smart young people in glitzy hotels in Manchester or Birmingham (how I long for fish and chips at Blackpool and Bournemouth); lots of ministerial statements; hundreds of fringe meetings attended by handfuls of people smelling out the free drink offered at most of them and addressed by keen young folk with an eye to their political CV. Conference has become an opportunity to announce policy decisions; in days of yore it was the occasion on which policy decisions were made, not just announced.
I personally have skipped the Tory Party Conference this year. Partly because I’m not much of a ‘party hack’; partly because it would have cost me the best part of £1000; and partly because I am rather tired of the sharp-suited youngsters who sidle up to one. “How are you, James?” they ask, by which they mean “Is there any chance you might die soon so that I can get my hands on your lovely constituency!” (They’ll have a good few years to wait yet, I very much hope.)
All of this means that apart from the slightly pointless two weeks that Parliament sat in mid-September, we are off on another Recess to accommodate these increasingly pointless jollies. I think that I would much rather that Parliament sat straight through from September onwards, and those who wanted to could go off to the Conference for a long weekend.
Maybe I am just old-fashioned, but I have to say I have a bit of sympathy with my old Father about conferences!
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