Party Conference. Is that a new game show?

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Could you please explain the party conference season to me?

Yes. It is the continuation of the silly season by other means.

What is silly about the party conference season?

What isn't?

No, seriously, aren't the party conferences important?

No.

Then what is the point of the conference season?

Well, if nothing else, it is proof positive that the different political parties can get together and organise something properly.

What can they organise?

They can organise the sequence of the party conferences in ascending order of current importance, so that the tiddlers like the Greens and Plaid Cymru go first, the middling minnows like the Lib Dems and SNP go next, then the big boys come last.

Is that all they can organise?

Yes. Nothing else.

Why do people take the party conferences so seriously?

Nobody does. Except the people who take part in them and the people who report them. It is all part of one big game called party politics, which is played by the politicians and the media people, and nobody else. You must never fall into the trap of taking the side of Anna Ford against Kenneth Clarke or vice versa, because Anna Ford and Kenneth Clarke are players in the same game, both pretending that party politics are really, really, really, REALLY important.

But they are not?

Lord bless you, no. Party politics bears the same relation to real politics as Neighbours does to the theatre.

You mean, party politics is just another soap opera?

I'm afraid so. The only difference between party politics and other soap operas is that whereas other soap operas are rehearsed and scripted in advance, party politics tends to be improvised and off the cuff. That is why it is so dreary. But it is also why people find it fascinating - because of the chance of a mistake or an unexpected gaffe.

Isn't it a great strain for politicians to improvise all the time?

Yes. And in fact they don't. Most of what they say and do is tightly scripted. But they pretend it isn't.

Why are party conferences important?

They are not. They are simply morale-boosting occasions for the party concerned.

Then why are they broadcast?

Because, as I was trying to explain, broadcasters and journalists and spin doctors and party politicians are all in the pretence together. It makes the media feel important to be given access to the conference hall. It makes journalists feel important to be taken on one side by a Cabinet minister or invited to some influential party. The rest of us couldn't give a toss.

Party conferences are like the Edinburgh Festival. If you are actually there, it seems the most exciting place in the world to be. To the rest of the world it means nothing, and they can't see why anyone covers it.

Hmm. Then who watches party conferences being broadcast?

Broadcasters. Party politicians.

Nobody else?

Yes. The usual people who switch on daytime TV because they are bored.

What do they make of party conferences?

They assume it is some kind of game show they have never come across before, and they sit there for hours trying to work out the rules.

What would seem to be the rules of a party conference to someone who thought it was a game show?

He would think that the idea of the game was a) to shout as loud as possible even though you've got a microphone and have no need to raise your voice; b) get the rest of the people sitting in the hall to cheer all at the same time.

That sounds a very boring game.

It is. Every year the BBC gets floods of letters about this new game show called Party Conference, complaining that it is neither funny nor exciting.

Then how would you recommend that I get through the party conference season without having it drawn to my attention?

The only way you can begin to guarantee it is by setting off on a yacht race round the world going the wrong away against the prevailing winds.

Good heavens. Were all those people setting off in the BT race down the Channel in heavy seas just trying to get away from the party conference broadcasts?

I can't think of any other sensible reason.

Thank you very much.

Not at all.

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