Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Bournemouth Diary

Some notes on the 2006 Conservative Party Conference

I arrive and, like thousands of others, both this week and last, have to spend hours in a queue to collect my pass.

Last year the person present in every speech was Walter Wolfgang – the 82 year old refugee from Nazi Germany who was thrown out of the Labour conference the previous week and even briefly arrested for shouting “Nonsense” (or words to that effect) at the Foreign Secretary. At this year’s conference the equivalent subject in every conversation has been the queue to collect your pass. Part of the problem was a 20% rise in the number of people at the conference but the main reason appears to have been delays with security checks by the police: apparently Labour had exactly the same problem in Manchester. A police spokesman told the press that late applications were a factor, but I had sent my application in on time a couple of months ago, and so had lots of the other people who were queuing with me. Some people got their passes before the conference but many others had to wait in line for hours, repeating jokes about soviet era queues and “Labour isn’t working.”

On Monday evening I divided my time between four fringe meetings. The first was the launch of the Conservative Friends of Bangladesh, chaired by Anne Main MP and with the High Commissioner of Bangladesh in attendance.

Bangladesh is a very poor country which is in particular danger of suffering dire consequences if sea levels rise as a result of Global Warming, as millions of its people live on land only just above sea level. It is also one of very few muslim majority countries which has so far evolved for itself the concept of a secular state with full religious toleration. I think it particularly important that we in the west help such countries to build on and develop these traditions, and especially to reward those who have evolved them for themselves.

Next meeting was hosted by BT and was a discussion on the new media at which Iain Dale and Anne Widdecombe were two of the speakers. Anne was in favour of most forms of modern communication but not blogging. Iain Dale explained about some of the feedback he gets on his blog (Iain Dale’s diary) from young people who would otherwise never dream of contacting a politician.

There was quite a bit of discussion during which certain blogs were mentioned a lot. While Iain was talking the author of one of the blogs concerned walked in, to be greeted with: “Oh, and look who’s arrived: oh, I’d better not say who you are as you’re anonymous.” As the gentleman concerned was recognisably the original of the cartoon face on Guido Fawkes’s blog (www.5thnovember.blogspot.com) it wasn’t exactly difficult to guess who he was ….

Then to the Nuclear Industry Association’s fringe. One of the advertised speakers had been unable to attend at the last minute (Voice from the back “he’s still queuing for his pass”) and was replaced by a speaker from Fluor. During the discussion Tim Yeo pointed out that we already accept that acting to stop climate change means that some form of subsidy to less polluting form of energy generation is likely to be needed and the principle is already accepted by the government where wind farms are concerned. I pointed out that even allowing for decommissioning costs nuclear is price competitive with most other forms of low-carbon generation. The gentleman from Fluor agreed and added that the Germans pay three times as much for electricity from wind power as we pay for nuclear electricity. He also made the very interesting point that converting water to hydrogen and oxygen for hydrogen burn engines to use is an excellent way to use the output from Nuclear Power plants during the evening when demand is low.

While another speaker from the floor was talking about the possibility that we might run out of power and the lights go out – the lights went out. I never did discover whether someone was playing with the dimmer as a joke or there really had been a brief interruption in the Bournemouth power supply.

Final meeting of the evening was a discussion on global poverty chaired by Peter Lilley. Most memorable point from the discussion: getting investment in poor countries is difficult as investors expect unrealistic rates of return such as 30%. One speaker said that he had been dealing with an “Ethical” investment trust which demanded a 25% annual return on its investments in a third world country. “I don’t call that ethical” he said and I have to agree.

Back to my hotel room to have a look at some of the books I’d picked up at conference. Laughed out loud several times while reading “President Gore and other things which never happened” a book of counterfactuals which is a sequel to “Prime Minister Portillo and other things which never happened.” I will have to write a full review but if you are into political history, or into counterfactuals, some of the essays in the book are absolutely excellent. One in particular, “If John Major had become Chief Whip in 1987” (e.g. instead of Chief Secretary, then Chancellor, then PM) is the funniest thing I have read for months.

I thought at first I’d quote one or two of the best lines in it but I’d have to quote practically the whole essay. About half of the story is an astonishingly plausible account of how the history of the past 20 years might have been different, a quarter describes real events as if they had happened slightly differently or to different people. The other quarter has people from that timeline having described to them events from counterfactual books with titles like “Prime Minister Blair and other things which never happened” (e.g. descriptions from our real history) and falling about laughing at the idea that anyone could propose things which are so implausible.

In fact the events of “If John Major had become Chief Secretary in 1987” are so much more plausible than real history that by the time I’d finished the essay I felt like I was living in one of those science fiction stories where someone goes back in time and accidentally changes the past so it all goes wrong. If I hadn’t been laughing so much I’d be frightened that Dr Who might go back to 1987, persuade Maggie to make JM Chief Whip rather than Chief Secretary to put time back in its proper course and wipe out the timeline we’re living in …

If you’re not into politics you won’t get it. If you are sufficiently interested to have read what I’ve just written and vaguely follow it, read “President Gore and other things which never happened” and I doubt if you’ll be disappointed.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sorry Chris but this is purest piffle .If you look at the Fortean Times there is a good debate starting with problems of a far more serious nature raised by Bertrand Russel. Still handy for getting your kids into a decent school . I suddenly feel belief coming upon me ....