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The Manchester Central Convention Complex, which is hosting the Conservative Party Conference 2021

How to make the most of party conference season

7 September 2021

It’s almost that time again… after a year hiatus, party conference season is back in person this year.  

The conferences are the biggest moment in the parliamentary calendar for each political party. They are a chance to see party democracy in action and get a real flavour of the issues that members and activists really care about in their communities, and around the world. It’s also a chance for you to advocate for the issues your organisations care about. Plan it right and you can get them in front of key decision-makers. 

A lot has changed since we last descended upon Manchester and Brighton to talk all things politics. The conferences are set just over one year on since the merger of DFID and the FCDO, six months on from the Integrated Review, and in the midst of the on-going battle against the government’s plans to cut the aid budget, as well as the development of a new International Development Strategy. Not to mention the global pandemic. 

Each party is taking a slightly different approach, with Labour opting for a fully in-person conference, the Conservatives going for a hybrid approach, and the Lib Dems and SNP going for a fully virtual approach. It’s still pretty uncertain about how each of these will pan out, and party conferences can be a little daunting at the best of times, so we’ve laid out a few handy pointers to get you through what will be a pretty hectic few weeks. 

How to make the most if it 

  • Conference is full of varied and interesting events. Make sure you scour the agenda and get to as many fringes as possible. 
  • There are usually parliamentarians everywhere. If you don’t manage to chat to them at a fringe, it’s more than likely you will run into them in the hotel lobby, or the bar, or the coffee shop. Be prepared to give your spiel at a moment’s notice. 
  • Haven’t been able to badger that minister or shadow secretary of state for a meeting? Head to a fringe where they are talking and ask your questions. You can also try speak to them after their fringe speech, but it’s everyone for themselves so make sure you get to the front early before the inevitable swarm. 
  • Chat to others in fringes - you never know what useful connections you will make. 
  • In previous years, I’ve met more MPs at the bars than official meetings so whether you fancy a drink or a non-alcoholic beverage it’s definitely worth staying up late to visit the main conference bars - you’ll absolutely run into politicians there. 
  • Go visit the stalls in the conference hall. Not only will you get to see the incredible work from some amazing charities in the UK, but the guide dogs are always there if you need to chill out for a second (you can even pat them). 
  • It’s a marathon not a sprint. More often than not it’s an early start and late finish - make sure you look after yourself. 
  • Attend the Bond drinks receptions at the Labour and Conservative Conferences. At the Conservative drinks reception on Sunday evening you’ll hear from speakers about the important role of aid and development within the UK’s wider approach to international policy, and how, in a year of UK leadership, we will look to put people and planet at the centre of the world’s recovery from Covid-19. We hope this will feature a speech from a government minister. 
  • Join us for the Labour Party Conference drinks reception on Sunday evening where you’ll hear from Labour figures about how a Labour government will look to rebuild support for aid and deliver the Sustainable Development Goals in the post-Covid era. This will feature a speech from shadow secretary of state for international development, Preet Gill MP. 
  • Make sure you also attend the fringe events hosted by other Bond members and allies. More details will be up on our website soon. 
  • Loads of vitamin C - oranges help. 

About the author

Alice Whitehead
Bond

Alice is a policy and public affairs adviser at Bond.

Paul
Bond

Paul leads the political advocacy of Bond, working with parliamentarians and ministers in support of ending global poverty.