Opinion by Michael Fabricant MP.
A RELAXED AND CARNIVAL-LIKE ATMOSPHERE FOR OUR CONFERENCE
Birmingham has proved itself as a major Conference venue. Friends of mine have known that in the past I have not been overly impressed with Brum as a place to spend time favouring other large cities such as Manchester and Leeds. But the Conservative Party Conference has changed all that for me and thousands of others.
The temporary pedestrianising of parts of Broad Street may have been a pain for motorists, but it gave a relaxed and friendly quality to the environs of the International Convention Centre. Blue balloons tied to traffic bollards and friendly Brummies sitting outside bars in Broad Street gave the Conference a carnival-like atmosphere. And Brindley place with its many caf?s was a revelation to many Conference goers who had no idea that the canal had been so well renovated.
One Conference attendee remarked to me that everyone is just so friendly. She said: ?When I asked a community police officer for directions, she replied: I?ll walk with you and show you. That was so kind. I?ve never had that in Blackpool or Bournemouth.?
Most of the Conference fringe events were held at the ICC or the Hyatt which are both in the security zone. But a major event, for the Spectator magazine, was held in the Birmingham Art Gallery. Everyone raved over the venue and the paintings. It did much to promote Birmingham as a City of the Arts.
Any regrets? Most of the Conference speeches were held in Hall One of the ICC and often it was standing room only. Only David Cameron?s speech was held in Symphony Hall. Also, it was often difficult to find specific exhibition stands because of the many different halls and floors being used. Signage could have been improved ? they were often difficult to see through the clutter of the stands – though ICC officials in their instantly recognisable blue uniforms were always very helpful. Next time, we will have better maps in our Conference handbooks. But as the Conference progressed, people found their way around and when the Conservatives return in 2010, Birmingham will seem like an old friend.
Particularly revealing to me were the comments of BBC and other media men and women who had attended the Labour Conference in Manchester the week before. They were not as complimentary about the Manchester venue which they thought lacked charm or, come to that, about the mood of Labour?s Conference.
It is generally thought by commentators that Gordon Brown gave a reasonable speech and saved his position for now. As expected after any Labour Conference, Gordon Brown enjoyed a bounce in the polls. It will be revealing to see how the they settle down in November. But even with the bounce, if the polls are to be believed, Labour are still down at 31%, the Liberal Democrats languishing at 15% while the Conservatives are at 45%. In marginal swing seats, the gap is even wider at 20%. Translated into votes, it would still mean many Labour MPs in the West Midlands losing their seats and the Conservatives forming the next Government. Every Labour MP will be aware of this and be wondering whether Gordon is the right man for the job.
Gordon knows this too. So was the return of Peter Mandelson madness or genius? Well, Peter Mandelson is a good tactician and will fight a tough election campaign for Labour when the time comes. For be of no doubt: Mandelson was not brought back for his business expertise. Gordon hopes he can fight a winning 1997 style election. Eleven years later that will be tough. Certainly the reaction in Lichfield and amongst the media has been: Gordon has made a desperate and fatally flawed decision.