Political conference season: Forget the speeches, let's make money

  • @NigelpMorris

As the political conference season gets underway today, the major parties will each be counting on a £1m-plus windfall from their annual gatherings.

Many senior politicians view their yearly encounters with their party faithful with a mixture of dread and resignation, while activists privately complain they have little real input.

There is widespread consensus that it might make sense, and involve less time off and less cash spent on hotel and bar bills, to transform their extended gatherings into US-style rallies across a weekend. But that is not going to happen any time soon for one persuasive reason: cash.

In recent years the major party conferences have turned into a major money-making operation. The Liberal Democrats, who struggle to match Labour and the Tories' income generation for the rest of the year, project that they could make a profit of as much as £1.5m from their conference starting in Brighton today.

The Conservatives will be aiming for a similar figure. And while Labour does not single out its conference income in its accounts, it declared £4.1m of commercial income in 2010, a large slice of which will have come from the biggest date in the party's calendar.

Just 10 years ago the parties struggled to make money from these get-togethers, with the Tories posting a loss of £700,000 in 2006 at their first gathering with Mr Cameron as leader.

Since then, to the dismay of conference stalwarts in all parties, they have gained much more of a commercial cutting-edge.

Labour expects around 130 organisations to display their wares at its conference in Manchester starting next Saturday. It is also offering "Business Forum" packages, costing up to £1,550, which include conference passes, tickets for Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls's speech and invitations to a reception attended by shadow ministers.

At the Conservative conference in Birmingham, stands are priced at between £6,900 and £12,750 depending on size, with almost 100 firms and organisations already buying space.