Conservative party conference blog: Boris, Bees and Bruce Forsyth

Our final postcard from the party conference season arrives stamped Birmingham. If indeed this was a postcard it would have been one from a natty little range showing famous election posters from history, sold by Conservative Archives. An example is below. Sadly, my conference budget has all but been used up buying cups of tea for MPs as Chloe Stables and I enticed them to talk to us about the Gift Aid Small Donations Bill.

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Source: Conservative Party Archive

Party conferences (in my limited experience) have a reality distortion field around them. I therefore shouldn’t have been surprised that yesterday evening I found myself in an art gallery full of fake masterpieces, listening to Eric Pickles answering Chloe’s questions about why his office is full of rhinos. This is 100% true by the way. That reality distortion field was even more apparent when Boris Johnson arrived. Apparently chased by cheering groupies all the way from New Street station, my brief glimpse of the NExT Tory LEader (a NETTLE the current Tory leader apparently wants to grasp) was cruelly interrupted by the following media scrum who all but knocked me over. I expect better behaviour at a Conservative party conference, chaps.

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Photo: @olliehayes Boris Battles the Giant Bee. It could be a new Flaming Lips album.

As in the case of Ed Milliband at Labour last week, Boris certainly seems to have got the blood up. I briefly thought of going to watch the Boris experience but the queues were longer than those last seen in Soviet-era Russian shops. Tickets for Glastonbury and the Olympics are a breeze compared to those for Boris.

BoJo aside, a familiar refrain from everyone was that it was all, well, just a bit flat. Smaller than last year. One wonders whether the event would have been financially viable were it not for the many charities with stands in the main hall, fringe events and of course delegates. At times it did feel like a voluntary sector conference with a conservative party fringe: but I don’t think this is a bad thing, as from what I could see there was much serious discussion going on. Albeit with a dash of people dressed as Boris, bees or Bruce Forsyth, and the de rigeur game-from-your-1970s-childhood-attached-to-serious-campaign stalls (for a full review, see our blog on the Lib Dems). I think in future all charities with decent games on their stand should be given a free place or else your average party conference would just be terrible to attend.

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Photo: @cafonline Nice to see you, to see you… CAF’s Hannah Terry is however disappointingly sans false moustache.

I’ve only been here for two days so I can’t give you the rundown on many fringe events. To the horror of certain others, I consoled myself at missing out on BorisFest by attending a Policy Exchange event on Reevaluating Thatcherism. This was really rather good – including Peter Lilley reading out a longish transcript of Mrs T’s ‘there is no such thing as society’ speech. It was an interesting and serious reminder that too many – including in the voluntary sector? – like to think that Conservatives lack compassion. The fringe event on attitudes to welfare and poverty run by NatCen, with the wonderful Julia Unwin, was another highlight. Both proved that party conferences can host a genuine exchange of views, not just talking to the like-minded. On that note, a couple of charity delegates told me that government types were listening – and genuinely concerned – at the difficulties faced by them as funding cuts bite. I will watch with interest.

Finally, a conference wouldn’t be a conference without the tat. I am now the proud owner of various stress balls, foot long pens with hands at one end, jellybeans, earbud holders, Top Gear keyrings, notepads and teddy bears. In these austere times, the children will be pleased to know that their christmas presents are sorted. Sneak preview below…

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Karl Wilding Karl Wilding, Director of Public Policy and Volunteering, leads NCVO's volunteering, policy, research and campaigning work in the UK and internationally. With lead responsibility for shaping the external environment for the voluntary sector, he blogs about the big issues facing voluntary organisations.

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