Saturday, October 07, 2006

Good Week Bad Week? A Tory Conference Retrospective

There are three people who came out well from last week's conference in Bournemouth and none of them are politicians. I would single out Nick Pisani, Steve Hilton and Sam Roake for special commendation. Nick Pisani is the former editor of Question Time, who has recently taken over as the Party's Director of Presentation. He was responsible in large part, with Steve Hilton, for the staging of the conference and its tone.

It was the most professional looking conference the Party has staged for many years. It looked great on TV and the format was excellent. Francis Maude and the Conference Committee had fashioned an excellent conference agenda which had just the right mix of propoer debate and speech making. The Dragons' Den idea worked well and the hot topic debates provided a welcome contrast to the usual format. I also thought the mix of outside speakers was excellent.

Sam Roake is the Party's new Internet Director. He was behind the WebCameron idea. Whatever you think of it, it got a huge amount of publicity this week and if you believe, as I do, that this sort of thing is vital if we are to win the political campaign on the internet, Sam Roake deserves a lot of credit. He and Francis Maude were instrumental in getting the blogging stand an exhbition space despite being thwarted at every stage by the conference organisers. Sam's next task will be to give the Party's website a much needed overhaul. It's really creaking with age now and needs to be replaced completely within the next twelve months.

Tim Montgomerie on ConservativeHome has today published what activists think of the Shadow Cabinet at the moment and has evaluated their performances at Bournemouth. Click HERE.

All in all I don't think anyone, apart from Francis Maude (and possibly Boris Johnson!), had a bad week. Francis took the fallout from the passes fiasco but as Tim Montgomerie points out, it wasn't really his fault.

Many blame Francis Maude for the accreditation chaos. I'm not sure that that's fair. The Dorset police and CCO Conferences (a separate company whose contract is about to expire) probably share the real blame and I hope Francis will put some independent grassroots activists in charge of an enquiry into the accreditation problems.

The conference organisation is carried out by a separate company, CCO Conferences, and their utter failure to handle the registration process properly, despite years of experience, is inexcusable. But even then it certainly wasn't all their fault. Dorset Police deserve a lot of the blame and I hope they will be big enough to accept it and apologise.

It must never happen again. And next year, we all have to endure Blackpool again. I've written on that subject before so I'll restrict myself to saying that I hope it's for the last time. There are now doubts about whether we will return to Bournemouth in 2008. I reckon we should look at going back to Brighton again.

17 comments:

griswold said...

I did not rate Dragon's Den. Trite.
The speakers from the floor were outstanding. Spoke as authoritatively as seasoned public speakers. Neil Johnson a star. Health care speakers outstanding. Did not rate the A listers on Day 1 - apart from Dr Fiona Kemp.
David Cameron must make no more references to his family. Enough said. He is misleading us on NHS. NHS is monolithic and bordering on a monoploy. He is wrong to give an undertaking to throw more of our money away because thats what his pledge amounts to. I feel sorry for Francis Maude. Overall a very good show.

Anonymous said...

Iain, I semi agree with you. The show definitely worked and I can hand Steve and Nick P credit for that.

WebCameron is a fake, staged half-hearted attempt at pandering to the technocracy. Dave is in danger of over-acting and appears completely unnatural to camera. This spells a lack of authenticity and voters won't warm to it.

The accreditation scandal was unforgivable and the metaphor wasn't good. Dorset Police were equally useless.

The party has got a lot to improve. And the website, as you point out, is another poor metaphor. Sidelining the bloggers said very little for the party's state of awareness too.

The conference was OK, but attention to detail is still too hit-and-miss.

The Druid said...

I agree with your remarks on the website. The current one is awful. If you couldn't make to B'mouth then you were left navigating the pants website to watch clips. Its so clunky and has a sort of bottom of the FTSE feel to the design. We want something funky and fresh damn it! The TP needs to get its new media act together. Nu Labour is yards ahead here. The blogs and webcameron are fine ideas though. If two years late....

Gracchi said...

I think the conference went well for the Tories if the best the media could do is a semi-gaffe from Letwin and a couple of odd comments from Boris Johnson means there wasn't much bad happening. It was always going to be an anticlimax after the interest of the Labour conference but the Tories seemed united and fresh if a little too perfect, Labour disunited and exhausted. Good way to look- but the hard work is keeping it going.

David W said...

"And next year, we all have to endure Blackpool again"

Careful Iain. Whilst I accept that Blackpool is not my favourite place on the planet, you must recognise that both Brighton and Bournemouth seem incredibly distant, and can appear extremly tory when viewed from northern eyes. Our party apparently needs to become attractive to Morrisons shoppers and slagging off Blackpool will not help that cause. I believe it would be better if we abandoned seaside resorts altogether and started hosting our conferences in cities.

Iain Dale said...

In previous posts on this topic I have made clear I think we should be going to Manchester or Cardiff. I wqould love to go to NEwcastle too but I don't think there are enough hotel beds. Blackpool is living on past glories and the Winter Gardens isn't worthy of holding our conference. Labour and the LibDems won't go back. Nor should we.

david kendrick said...

Maude looks like a boy sent to do a man's job. With the young DC in charge, that is the worst possible impression from the chairman.

The tories need to be constructively nasty. They need somebody to take charge of the press (pro-actively, not re-actively), somebody to in charge of the internet/blogs/videoCam, and somebody to run bye-elections.

Not too tough to spot. And if they can't do that, how can they run the country?

Anoneumouse said...

Iain, come on, Presentation, presentation, costly presentation. I have heard more content from speakers in the shadow of the Tyburn Hanging Tree.

Conference, pah, so passé. Reform dear chap, reform, this is "the century of the common man."

If David Cameron has anything real to say, he could pick no better location than a soap box in Hyde Park. He could get there on his bike, trees galore and the worlds media would lap it up.

And Thanks to the An act of the UK Parliament passed in 1872, it should be free and you wouldn't need the fiasco of accreditation.

**Cuation**, keep the soap box low or it will need a handrail, EU Directive 2001/45/EC
.

Kipling said...

We should hold out next conference, or at least the 2008 one, in Birmingham. Why we carry on going to the seaside I have no idea, we are a modern progressive party, we should reflect this in our choice of venue.

bebopper said...

For most television viewers, coverage came through the The Daily Politics.
Andrew Neil and his colleague Jenny spent the week trying to get damaging statements on Tax, Funding and the NHS.
The Tories need to be prepared for hostile programmes like this and be very careful who they allow on the show. Ed Vaisey came over well, for example, but Tim Bell, something of a fixture on the programme,was pretty feeble. Portillo, was fine - a safe pair of hands. Oliver Letwin should be kept under lock and key for the duration.
When I heard that Letwin and Sarah Howard were appearing on Question Time, I couln't bring myself to watch. I hope it went well, but surely there needs to be some thought as to who can do a decent job out there on the airwaves.
Incidentally, I was most impressed with the Party Political Broadcast on the last day of the conference. I can't remember the detail, but there was a complete absence of knocking copy, with a skillful soft sell from David Cameron. A good template for the future.

The Druid said...

Somewhere other than B'pool please. Hell's waiting room that place.

Cardiff is a good idea. But what about Glasgow? Time the Conservative and Unionist party reached out beyond little England to the Celtic parts of this great country. The Scots/Welsh will not learn to like the Tories unless the Tories are seen to like them. Besides I like the idea of taking the fight to the Nu Labour strongholds!

Chris Palmer said...

Sorry Iain, but I disagree. Where was the debate? There was in reality none. The Conservative party conference was no conference at all, but a rally - somewhat akin to those held in Nuremburg during the 1930's and 1940's by the National Socialist German Workers Union party. We in the audience just had to sit there and have 'important' MPs and others tell us what we should think, and that many of our 'old' ideas were clearly wrong and needed purging from our system.

The only audience participation came from those silly little electronic devices - and the choice was so limited and irrelevant it didn't matter.

Everything was pre-planned, pre-written and PR.

The Editor said...

Iain

Are Labour playing the race card?

There's lots of anti-muslim feelings in the country and they need something big to win back support.

Andrew Woodman said...

Fully agree on Blackpool. The place is tired and pretty horrid. If we're having a Northern conference the switch to the other side of the country and go somewhere in Yorkshire.

Praguetory said...

David Kendrick asked for somebody to run by-elections. That man is big 2005 swinger Grant Shapps. Go to the forum on his website and you'll see that he has the energy and enthusiasm. He isn't nasty, though. That only works for the Dems.

Gary Sambrook said...

I think we should take the conference to Birmingham, as it is the second city and it is under Tory/LibDem control - bring it to brum and make a good impression on brummies we could take overall control!!!!!

Machiavelli's Understudy said...

Out of sheer and absolute curiousity, what is it about Blackpool that you feel you must endure? I have heard some grumbles on here about the quality of the accommodation in some hotels and the air conditioning in the Winter Gardens, but what else causes problems?

I'm hoping I can get a few good answers here, as I'm sure there are a few of you who have been through the Blackpool Experience!

What is there to be done that could (realistically) restore some appeal to the town?