Conference reflections, day 4

The fourth and final day of the conference is all about the leader’s speech, with very little else of note taking place. Which is a good thing, as after I’d started by oversleeping and then checking out of the hotel I didn’t get to the conference until late morning anyway.

So, while waiting for the big speech to start, I whiled away my time hoovering up freebies from the various exhibition stands. Chocolate, jelly babies, pickles (the ones you eat, not the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government), curry, popadoms, apples, cake, pens, yoghurt, cheese, notebooks (paper, not computer), mints, a candle, more cake, more pens, water (bottles of), a jigsaw puzzle, stress balls, magazines, apple juice, yet more pens, a ruler and a couple of bags. Most of the edibles were consumed on the spot (I didn’t need a large lunch after all that), the rest came home with me. I was slightly disappointed that I missed out on the cupcakes from the Conservative Muslim Association – they offered me one as I walked past shortly after arriving, but having just had breakfast I didn’t fancy one at the time. And when I went back later they’d all been eaten. In between, on various stands I was invited to support campaigns both for and against HS2 (only one of which got my support), join the NASUWT, contribute to Islamic Relief, test my driving skills with my vision deliberately impaired (something to do with an insurance company, I think), have my hearing checked by Specsavers (I gave that a miss), agree that The Big Society Needs The Bible, buy a teddy bear from the Conservative Disability Group, have a massage in a holistic bubble, back Boris, test my knowledge of first aid (pretty good, as it happens) and have my spine tested by a chiropractor (I declined that one as well). If you thought that political party conferences were all about politics, you’d be, well, right, actually – all of these organisations were, of course, trying to drum up support for their chosen cause or lobby on behalf of their interests. But it does make things more interesting and provide a bit of light relief in between all the meetings.

David CameronDavid Cameron’s speech has already been dissected and analysed in far more depth than I’ve got time for here, so I’m not going to bother – read tomorrow’s newspaper if you want to know what he had to say. Slightly surprisingly, the hall wasn’t completely full, a fact noted by some commentators who wondered whether it had anything to do with dissent in the party. But I think the reason is more prosaic: Last year, apparently, the hall was smaller and a lot of people who queued for entry didn’t get in. That meant that a fair number of people this year either looked at the queue and thought it was too long and therefore didn’t join it, or didn’t even bother to stay for the PM’s speech at all. Which, coupled with a larger hall this year, meant empty seats. In fact, queuing was entirely unnecessary this year unless you wanted to sit near the front.

Conference reflections, day 3

Notes from day three come, unusually, before the end of day three as there weren’t any mid or late evening fringe events I felt like going to. In fact, I’ve spent quite a lot of the day not going to things, starting with the main auditorium speeches by Boris Johnson (missed because I got up late) and Teresa May (missed because, well, I couldn’t be bothered). I did catch most of Boris on the monitors in the catering area where I was attempting to forced my brain into life with coffee, and caught a fair amount of Teresa on the BBC booth monitors (although I missed the cat reference), and have to say that Boris came across much better – as a rabble rouser he has few peers. But the first event I actually made it to in person was the lunchtime fringe meeting sponsored by UK Music (same organisation as yesterday’s pop quiz) and chaired by Feargal Sharkey (also as with the pop quiz).

I tweeted, somewhat (or, more accurately, very) ironically yesterday that all the free food and booze from UK Music had caused me to change my mind about their approach to copyright enforcement (which, frankly, sucks). But this meeting wasn’t about copyright, and here I found a lot more common ground. Encouraging grassroots music by abolishing the previous government’s stifling red tape regarding licensing, for example, is something that any music lover, on either side of the intellectual property divide, can only welcome. UK Music’s report into the contribution to the economy made by Britain’s live music scene was surprisingly fascinating reading. And a brief conversation with Feargal after the end of the event revealed a more pragmatic approach to unauthorised filesharing, at least from his personal perspective, than maybe I’d expected. I still think there’s a big gulf there between UK Music as a whole and the copyright reform movement, but I don’t think UK Music necessarily speaks with a single voice either and I think there are areas where positive engagement is possible. I’ll follow that up later with a more detailed blog post.

I came away from an early evening event on the subject of protecting children from Internet porn feeling much less sanguine. Featuring contributions from Claire Perry MP (notorious for her beliefs that it’s as easy to regulate the Internet as it is to regulate mobile phones) and the Minister for Children and Families, Tim Loughton (who may know a lot about children but clearly knows very little about the Internet), this left me wanting to beat my head against the wall. Claire Perry arrived late, said her piece and then left before taking any questions, meaning she wasn’t there when I pointed out a couple (I didn’t have time for more) of major flaws (in short: it won’t work as well as PC-level blocking and it’s highly susceptible to mission creep) in her argument during the Q&A session, but it’s clear that she has the ear of the minister. Of the panel, only Mumsnet co-founder Justine Roberts showed an appreciation of the wider issues – she made the point that everything I said had been brought up many times by Mumsnet users and that there was certainly no consensus among her members that ISP-level porn blocking is workable. Despite that, it seems clear that that’s what we’re going to get – having originally said that it’s not possible, the ISPs have seemingly done a U-turn and come up with proposals for opt-in blocking. Claire Perry saw this as vindication of her belief that she knows better than the techies. In reality, it looks to me as if the ISPs have simply concocted some snake oil that they hope will make her believe they’re doing something useful. It was left to a final contribution from the floor by a representative from Microsoft who made the point that PC-level – that is, user-controlled rather than ISP-controlled – filtering (which Claire Perry had dismissed as “too complicated”) is one of the things that they’re putting a lot of work into precisely because they don’t think that it’s the role of the ISPs to decide what their customers can see. I got the impression that there were only three people in the room (me, Man from Microsoft and Justine Roberts) who actually grok the Internet, and, surprise surprise, we have a different viewpoint to all the others.

Anyway, tomorrow is the last day. Although it finishes in the afternoon, after the PM’s keynote speech, I may not be able to write up the notes until I get home as, by then, I won’t have a hotel room to go back to – I check out in the morning before heading over to the conference.

Conference reflections, day 2

Day 2 started with a packed tram into the conference, meaning that by the time I got in I was already feeling hot and sweaty. But I’d decided to ditch the suit and tie, as it as just too hot the previous day for formal attire, so it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. In any case, I think that the Conservative Party could do with fewer men in suits and more men in business casual. One of the things that gives a bad impression of the party is the battalions of members dressed as bankers or public schoolboys.

Keynote speech of the day was by George Osborne. As I tweeted at the time, the Chancellor got a bigger cheer for bashing the banks than he did for bashing Labour, and an even bigger one for bashing the Euro. Osborne isn’t as charismatic a speaker as William Hague, who delivered Sunday’s keynote, and sometimes he struggled to lift the audience. I’m also not entirely sure what he means by, on the one hand, stating (entirely correctly, in my opinion) that the solution to a debt crisis is not more debt but then later in the speech talking about ways to ease access to credit for small businesses. I’d have preferred to hear suggestions for making it easier for companies to live within their means.

Straight off from the main hall afterwards to a fringe event run by Channel 4 News, including a free lunch. In fact, by judicious selection of fringe events, it would be possible eat entirely at someone else’s expense for the duration of conference. There are some things, though, that even free food wouldn’t be enough of a bribe to sit through. Fortunately, Channel 4 News doesn’t fit that category and so I nibbled their sandwiches while Gary Gibbon interviewed Michael Gove.

The highlight of the day, though, was a “Political Pop Quiz” hosted by Feargal Sharkey on behalf of music industry lobby group UK Music. I’ve been critical of UK Music in the past for their approach to copyright (and I haven’t changed my mind as a result of this event), but I’m always up for a quiz, especially a pop quiz – and even more so a pop quiz with free beer, wine and food (see previous paragraph) so along I went.

As I was on my own, I was allocated to a team of similar singletons and we adopted the name “Billy No Mates”. I modified the team name sheet a bit to change the sponsor logo. Two MPs turned up in Metallica t-shirts. If I’d known that was the dress code, I’d have worn my Pirate Bay t-shirt.

Unfortunately, things were a bit late starting and two of our team decided they couldn’t be bothered hanging around, so by the time we actually got down to it there were only three of us. Despite that, we came a creditable 9th out of 24 teams. At least one of the teams which beat us had an unfair advantage, comprising as it did members of the media from the BBC and Channel 4 who had been to the same event at the other two party conferences previously. But it was all good fun, and, despite having a different viewpoint on the music industry’s approach to copyright and regulation, it’s hard not to like Feargal Sharkey when you meet him in the flesh.

Conference reflections, day 1

It’s actually the start of day two here, but I didn’t get time yesterday to post anything (and the wifi in my hotel is so shonky that working from there was near-impossible). So here’s a brief rundown of yesterday.

As a first-time conference-goer, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. But, in many ways, it’s similar to many other corporate events I’ve been to in the past, so there’s nothing particularly unusaul about it. I spent most of yesterday wandering round the exhibition hall, chatting to people and generally networking – I have yet to encounter anyone I know, but there’s no shortage of people to talk to.

I attended the CPF lecture by David Willetts, who I have to say is an excellent speaker in that context – erudite, witty and not afraid to assume that his audience is as intelligent as he is. Anyone who can reference the Marshmallow Test and the Prisoners’ Dilemma and make them both sound interesting is doing pretty well!

The main set-piece event of the day was the speevh by William Hague. That’s the one you’ll have seen on the news or read about in the paper, so there’s not a lot I can add except to comment on his reference to Nick Clegg. Most of the press seems to have picked up on the fact that this generated applause, what they don’t say is that the hall was split almost evenly between those who were applauding loudly and those who kept their hands firmly by their sides. The coalition is still a sore point in many sectors of the party.

While we were inside, there was a protest march outside by various groups opposed to being told the truth about the economy. I was a bit amused by the RMT banners, which had a distinctively retro-Communist look about them (although I suppose that sums up the approach of their leader very well). One repeated theme on Twitter from those on the march was a chant telling David Cameron to “fuck off back to eaton” (sic). It might help their campaign a bit if they’d paid more attention to their own schooling. Incidentally, despite being very noisy from close up (I went out to the security fence for a bit to watch it go past), the march was entirely inaudible from inside the venue. If they though they were disrupting us or making their voice heard, they were sadly mistaken.

The final event of the day for me was the Members’ Dinner. Again, that’s the first time I’ve been to anything of this nature, but from my perspectiev it went off very well. Excellent entertainment from Chethams musicians, a witty speech from Michael Gove (who, I’ll be honest, I didn’t previously have a lot of time for, but he came across very well here) and good food made the price worth it.

Anyway, day two starts now, and I’ll try to blog a bit on that sometime today rather than tomorrow if I get the chance. One drawback is that not only is my hotel wifi pretty poor but there’s also limited free wifi here at the venue so my laptop isn’t as usable as I’d like (I’m writing this on an Internet cafe PC – how 20th century). That, surely is something that really needs to eb sorted out – I would epxect decent free wifi for all delegates as standard at an event like this. Sort it out for next year, please, CCHQ.