As I may have mentioned in an earlier post, I was invited, along with a group of other Birmingham bloggers to attend the Conservative Party Conference here in my home city of Brum (something you may have read about elsewhere).
Like many of the other bloggers invited, I did feel a little conflicted, not being what you might call a Conservative supporter (as I’m sure regular followers of my cartoons here on my blog and for the not-exactly-right-of-centre Tribune will have noticed) and was concerned about what the Tories’ motives were in inviting us. At the same time though I saw this as an exciting opportunity to get up close and personal to the sort of people that may (or may not) be forming the next Government…. and draw them.
With this in mind, and sketchbook and pencil tucked in pocket, tablet PC in bag and tortuously-long-windedly acquired Conference pass dangling around my neck I arrived at the ICC on Sunday morning with a dual sense of trepidation and expectation. After passing through the security tent, involving a frisking by a Ghurka (necessitated by my setting the metal detector off – something I unintentionally did on every occasion) I was in. Upon entering the security cordon, I was struck by the relative lack of security. Aside from a couple of heavily armed and bullet-proof vested policemen (who declined to be photographed) standing by the entrance I didn’t see any serious visible security presence.
Anyway, over the course of the next four days I attended the main hall and saw the likes of William Hague, George Osbourne, Boris Johnson and, of course, David Cameron lecture the massed throng. I missed Osbourne’s keynote address on the Tuesday as the hall was full, and gave up all hope of attending DC’s closing address on Wednesday when I noticed the length of the queue that had formed outside Symphony Hall by 11.30am for a 2.30pm start.
As interesting as the main hall debates were to watch, excessive stage management, standing ovations and all, I found the fringe events more enlightening and considerably more varied than I was expecting, not least because you could get remarkably close to the speakers. I sat in on debates involving the likes of Richard Dawkins, Ian Livingstone (one of the guys behind the Fighting Fantasy books I remember from my childhood – in particular The Warlock of Firetop Mountain – in a debate about the videogame industry), Shami Chakrabati (of Liberty), a panel of political bloggers that included the likes of Iain Dale, Guido Fawkes and Dizzy. I also saw a number of well known journalists and commentators in the halls, including Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell, who has put his conference sketchbook online, and also talks about the experience. Oh, and I drank a fair bit of free wine and ate quite a few canapés.
I wandered around the stalls representing such delightful groups as the Fur Trade Association, the Countryside Alliance, the Falkland Islands and and a bizarrely camp Tameside Council. and picked up far too many bags full of fliers, novelty squeezy tat, magazines and newspapers. In many respects this part of the Conference was much like any other trade show I’ve been to before, except that the trade here was right wing pressure groups.
Oh, and I drew. And drew and drew and drew… Not only in my sketchbook, but on my tablet PC. All my sketches (and a few photos) are available on Flickr. Not just roughs, but also the recent Tribune cover, produced entirely on my computer in a quiet corner of one of the upper levels of the ICC. In addition to this, Tribune has run a double-page spread of my sketches and thoughts (PDF – Warning: around 2.5Mb).
All in all a very tiring (hence the fact I’ve only just got round to blogging about this properly) and exciting experience. Have I been converted to the Conservative way of thinking? Hell no! Have I gained an insight in to the way a major conference runs? Absolutely – and something I’d like to do again, preferably for all the major political parties.
Anyway, as previously mentioned, I was one of a group of Birmingham bloggers who attended the conference… they’ve beaten me to it with their thoughts (in no particular order):