John Penrose MP...

PUBLISHED: 11:30 02 October 2006 | UPDATED: 09:57 24 May 2010

John Penrose

John Penrose

Party Conferences are extremely peculiar affairs. Part sales conference, part reality TV show, they backfire on the political parties that hold them as often as not

Party Conferences are extremely peculiar affairs. Part sales conference, part reality TV show, they backfire on the political parties that hold them as often as not. If they didn't exist, would anyone invent them? What do people actually DO when they're there? The first point to realise is that, for the party faithful who go to Blackpool or Bournemouth every year, politics is their hobby. Other people play rugby, go skydiving, spot trains or watch birds, but for political folk the annual party conference is their best chance to get together, catch up with friends, swap stories and gossip. The official debates on TV are only a tiny part of the action. Most of the interesting stuff happens off camera, in seminars, bars and cafes where people meet to discuss how to improve the NHS, go green, or deal with conflicts in Afghanistan.For party leaders the conference is a chance to enthuse and motivate their troops, like a company sales conference. It's a great place to announce new ideas and policies, too. After all, if you can't find a receptive audience at your own party conference, what chance have you got? So a party conference sounds fine in theory, but every year at least one of them goes wrong. Mainly, that's because the press are desperate for something - anything - to make them more interesting. So they go digging for rumours of leadership plots, splits and coups to spice things up, while the spin doctors frantically pretend everything is serene and calm.It's all a bit unreal, really. Which is why it's vital to get back to the real world afterwards. This year my antidote to conference comes from Weston General Hospital, where I'll be working as a porter for a while this week. I'll probably learn more in a few hours there than from several days in Bournemouth.

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