An insight into what really happens at the political party conferences - Refugee Council
September 17, 2008

An insight into what really happens at the political party conferences

By Jonathan, Campaigns & Public Affairs team

Delegates at modern party conferences attend three main types of meeting – the main conference, the fringe meeting, and the conference reception. 

In the morning the delegates – who have been nominated by local party activists – all file into the main Conference Hall to debate and vote on motions to adopt as party policy.  They get a long lunch break and then they return to debate more motions.  This is the main programme and is determined by party members and officials. 

The fringe programme takes place around the edges of the main conference programme – at breakfast time, in the lunch hour, and during the early evening – and consists of smaller meetings hosted by charities, thinktanks and lobby organisations.  Fringe meetings normally have three or four speakers and provide an opportunity to really get to grips with a specialist issue. 

The third type of meeting available to conference delegates is the reception.  The reception takes place later in the evening, features canapés and wine (and not much else – long speeches are discouraged) and is an opportunity to network with like-minded political activists or lobbyists.

So a keen delegate’s day will start with a fringe breakfast, followed by a morning debating motions, another fringe at lunchtime, more debating in the afternoon, another fringe in the evening, with a reception to finish.  Except for most it won’t end there.  The Conference hotel bar will still be buzzing into the early hours and that is often where the real business is done – votes canvassed, candidates chosen, deals done.

And after a few hours sleep, they start all over again the next day…