Tories plan to scale down party conferences

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The Tory conference could be reduced to a US-style weekend convention under proposals being drawn up by the Conservative leadership to abandon the party's traditional week at the seaside.

The Tory conference could be reduced to a US-style weekend convention under proposals being drawn up by the Conservative leadership to abandon the party's traditional week at the seaside.

The four-day annual jamboree at Bournemouth or Blackpool could be scaled back and switched to a provincial city such as Newcastle, Birmingham or Manchester.

Theresa May, the party chairman, and party managers want to get away from the image of elderly activists meeting at windswept, out-of-season coastal resorts and attract young professionals who do not have to take a week's holiday to attend. They are also considering proposals to redraw the agenda to move the leader's speech to the mid-point of the conference.

Michael Fabricant, the shadow Trade and Industry minister, said: "I don't think we should continue with Blackpool, and I have already raised that with senior officials at Central Office.

"Not just the bad weather, but the quality and cost of the hotels is a major disincentive. As a radical party, we should have radical ideas about how to conduct our conference and where it should take place."

Keith Simpson, the shadow Defence Secretary, said: "The costs of running the event are enormous and a lot of people find it difficult to come to conferences for a week, particularly self-employed people. It is worth looking at a change."

The party has booked the Bournemouth International Centre next year, but sources said senior officials had an open mind about the venue for the 2005 party gathering.

Previous party chairmen have repeatedly examined the possibility of moving the conference venue, amid fears that Victorian seaside resorts provide an out-of-date backdrop to political debates.

They have always baulked at the problems of finding suitable accommodation for delegates, lobbyists and the media. But critics have also claimed that dwindling attendance at conference means the party no longer needs a venue as large as Blackpool or Bournemouth.

Others have criticised the truncated agenda at this year's event, with debates running only between 2pm and 5.30pm, leaving mornings open for opponents of the leadership to voice their criticism of the party hierarchy on the conference fringe.

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