The atmosphere is electric, the attendance busy, despite the Commons trying to scupper it, and the events around the fringe are looking significant – they are the place to be seen. Talk is excited, but nervous. Faces leap out of the crowd, reminding you that even Cabinet ministers are just like us and here with us. The thrill can be felt in your fingers. I almost wish I were there.
The star of this show is Boris Johnson, and all will turn on him, in a way that has not been the case for any other Conservative leader since Margaret Thatcher.
So why am I not there? I’ve nothing against Manchester. I quite like the city actually: Cottonopolis, the finest provincial great city that’s not managed to be Edinburgh, the master of South Lancashire. I should be there.
I am not there. Well, for one thing there is the cost of a ticket and of hotel rooms over the conference week. (I once tried booking a hotel room in Cardiff at the same time as a NATO summit and found the prices doubled and more – and that was only for Barack Obama: imagine what Boris Johnson can do.) The ticket price is worth it if you are getting involved. I just suspect that I would be a wandering body unseen at the edge, making journalistic notes for articles I might never write, believing that appearing in this glittering company will be the opening of a sparkling new political career, and leaving again still unnoticed. In the meantime, I have a full-time job and a family to look after.
Actually, I am saying this without having been to the Conference before, so I may be being utterly unjust.
I keep being encouraged to go, and by some serial conference-goers my absence is incomprehensible. It has just never been a priority. They don’t seem to miss me, and I have to work to eat.
All the same, there must be a buzz at being where the power is, or where the power wishes to be (or where the power thinks it is anyway). There would be the chance, I would dream, that I might be able to make my voice heard by asking a pointed question at a minor fringe event, or at one of the social functions I am told are there, but that buzz has never overcome my reluctance. I’m shy, you see.
Now I wish I were there… I have a speech ready too. Then the cold hand of pessimism falls and I expect that I would just be sitting in a hall with my back aching on a hard chair, clapping at scripted speeches and occasionally recognising people I have seen on the telly or passed in a corridor in Westminster. If you’re someone who is likely to be called to give a speech – go. My name always seems to get missed.
I have a brilliant and uplifting speech on Brexit prepared, but I somehow doubt that it will ever see the light of day. Maybe I will publish it here one day.
There is a week to go, and many things will be said and happen, and promises made that our Zombie Parliament will be unable to pass. This is the opening for a General Election campaign that might never happen. (It would be nice if our constituency had a candidate of course. I’ll do it if no one else will, if CCHQ can process my candidate application in time, but there must have had thousands to go through, and as I said, I am used to my name being missed.)
By Boris Johnson:
- Seventy-Two Virgins
- The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History
- The Dream of Rome
- Have I Got Views For You
- The Spirit of London
- Johnson’s Life of London: The People Who Made the City That Made the World
By David Cameron
By Tim Bale
- The Conservative Party: From Thatcher to Cameron
- The Conservatives since 1945: The Drivers of Party Change
- Footsoldiers: Political Party Membership in the 21st Century by Tim Bale, Paul Webb and Monica Poletti
- Making a Success of Brexit and Reforming the EU by Roger Bootle
- Brexit: Its Necessity and Challenge by Tony Kosuge
- Brexit: How Britain Will Leave Europe by Denis MacShane
- Brexit: Why Britain Voted to Leave the European Union by Harold D. Clarke, Matthew Goodwin and Paul Whiteley
- Brexit: How Britain Left Europe by Denis MacShane
- Beyond Brexit: Towards a British Constitution by Vernon Bogdanor
- Woke: A Guide to Social Justice by Titania McGrath
- The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity by Douglas Murray
- Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds by Charles MacKay (1841)
- 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, by Jordan B Peterson
- Political Correctness Gone Mad?, by Jordan B. Peterson, Stephen Fry, Michael Eric Dyson and Michelle Goldberg