Conference has a special atmosphere, even in the difficult times. The superficial thrill of seeing national politicians and TV pundits wandering around the streets adds to it. The pleasure of feeling part of something relevant and important is deeply satisfying. As is being able to drink lots of free booze.
One of my guilty pleasures is observing the different types of people you get at Conference. Here are just a few…
Call of the mild
Who’s that pretending to take a call while wandering into shot? The political equivalent of the blokes on Booze Britain who can’t walk past a camera without being lairy, these individuals try to be more subtle. They’ll drift into view with their phone firmly stuck to their ear but their eyes give it away. They’re looking right at the camera. See if you can spot a mate doing it. Every year I wish someone would shout “oi oiii” at Andrew Neill. Every year I’m disappointed. Please, if you’re going, do it for all of us.
Out of office
Former leaders and ministers can breeze about at a slower and more relaxed pace than they used to. They look happier and less tired. Well, most of them do. Others feel awkward about being there and wear the embarrassed expression of someone who’s discovered their flies have been down all afternoon.
A load of stunts
In any other week of the year trying to grab a politician’s attention with an inflatable sperm would seem like madness. Not here. It appears to be the rule that each member of staff on an exhibition stand has to have ridiculous gimmick. What’s even more amazing is that politicians will flock to these bizarre photo opportunities like looters to JD Sports. “You’re campaigning against Sunday trading so you want me to put a rat on my head? Sure.”
“Hi, I’m Lawrence Howitt from BS Public Affairs, we’re hosting a thought event about citizen engagement via online packages that click through to a consultation matrix, would you like to come along?”
“Will there be free booze?”
Suffer these tieless types for they will feed and refresh you.
“Yes, we’ve met before” they say after you introduce yourself. If you have met them before you’re always impressed that a shadow cabinet minister has remembered you. If you haven’t met them before, you’re left questioning your sanity. For years I thought there must have been something particularly memorable about me as the great and the good always seemed to know who I was. It was upon meeting George Osborne that my world changed. “Yes, we’ve met before” he said. It was impossible so the words rang around my head. “Why would he say that if we hadn’t?” I thought. Then it hit me. They all do it. “Son of a…”
Glare in the community
Characterised by their rigid posture and thousand-yard stare, this particular breed of political animal is deeply insecure. They want you to think “hey look at that guy swanning around, I bet he’s dead powerful and charismatic”. What you’ll really think is “what a tool”. It’s not that these individuals are bad, it’s just status is the only thing that validates their existence. Which makes for dreadful conversation. Listen out for their trademark inflection when they utter dull phrases such as “we need to work on messaging”.
The protest with the mostest
“You what mate? Chewing gum is made out of human waste and old trainers? No I won’t ‘like’ your Facebook group”. Avoid placard wavers at all costs. No good ever comes from talking to them. Have you ever heard someone say “you know what, I’m really glad I spoke to that woman over there covered in lamb’s blood and sawdust, she really opened my eyes about education policy”?
Of course there are plenty of normal people who go to conference, but they’re no fun to spot.