Conference Diary 1: National Convention
To Birmingham, where I attended this morning a meeting of the "National Conservative Convention."
A few years ago, when the Conservative party as such had no proper legal existence, there was a body called the "National Union of Conservative and Unionist Associations" or "National Union" for short, which pulled the voluntary party together and organised the conference. The nearest thing it had to a governing body was called the "NUEC" or National Union Executive Committee, which consisted of about 400 of wht the press would have called "Tory Grandees."
When the party was put onto a more formal legal footing during William Hague's leadership, the National Convention was set up as an equivalent body replacing the NUEC, and is both more powerful - for example, it elects several members of the party board - and closer to grassroots members - most of the NUEC were officers of what we would now call Regional oranisations, while all constituency party chairmen are members of the National Convention and they form most of its' membership. (It also includes the Area chairmen - most areas roughly correspond to a county - which is why I was there.)
It's interesting to see how much of the old National Union's way of doing things has carried forward into the new structures: I served on the NUEC from about 1989 to 1992, on the Convention when it was first set up about 1999, and again since last year. Things have got a lot less formal but basically the atmosphere is the same.
David Cameron and the new party chairman, Grant Shapps, both spoke at the convention this morning and both were on great form. I think it's going to be an interesting conference.