Party conferences dates, venues and a thought for exhibitors who want to wrestle control back from the parties

UUP gavelA quick post to remind political conference followers about the start of the conference season.

UUP are tempting metaphors and analogies with their conference on 21 (members only) and 22 (public sessions) September in Titan Belfast. Last year Secretary of State Owen Paterson popped into the conference and said a few words on his way past; Mike Nesbitt gave a Cameron-style speech on the economy without notes challenging the party to:

… become net contributors to Her Majesty’s Treasury. We grow our private sector so it is so big, so powerful, so profitable we no longer need the block grant.

The SDLP’s Fearghal McKinney chaired a panel discussion. Since then the party has elected a new leader, lost an MLA (David McNarry) and lost a Lord (Ken Maginnis).

This year at conference the UUP will be looking to find ways to put their disagreements behind them – or at least blot them out with more positive news stories about policies anything other than division – and start to turn their message towards the European Election. Watch out for the prominence or otherwise of the party’s MEP Jim Nicholson as well as whether the UUP choose to differentiate themselves from the DUP and Alliance. [Updatepost about Mike Nesbitt’s speech.]

PUP party conference in East Belfast on 13 October. At last year’s conference, Billy Hutchinson took on the party leadership giving an energetic speech before donning an invisibility cloak throughout most of the following months and has mainly only been in the news commenting on loyalist misbehaviour rather than promoting positive policies and addressing working class issues. [Updatepost added about the PUP conference.]

Workers Party on 20 October in the Grosvenor Hall, Glengall Street, Belfast. [Updatepost about Workers Party NI party conference and Brian McDermott’s speech about the media.]

Green Party NI on 27 October at Stranmillis College, Belfast. Last year, Environment Minister Alex Attwood attended and gave a wide ranging speech to the gathered delegates. [Updatepost about Green Party NI’s conference.]

The SDLP meet in Armagh on 9 and 10 November in Armagh City Hotel. Last year their conference was dominated by Margaret Ritchie signing out, the selection of their new party leader, followed by Alasdair McDonnell’s moment in the spotlight. [UpdateDelores Kelly’s talk of opposition got more attention than Alasdair McDonnell’s leader speech this year.]

The TUV conference is on 17 November at Royal Hotel Cookstown. [Update – quick post on Jim Allister’s speech.]

The DUP are back again in their traditional venue La Mon Hotel in Castlereagh on 23 and 24 November, though I bet Sammy Wilson’s comedy routine is less edgy this year. [Update – there’s a long post about the second day of the DUP conference including Peter Robinson’s leader speech.]

Alliance and Sinn Fein conferences traditionally take place in the first half of the year.

Alliance on Saturday 2 March at La Mon hotel.

Sinn Fein‘s ard fheis will held in Castlebar (County Mayo) on Friday 12/Saturday 13 April.

I’ll update this post with more details and any changes over the coming months.

Many organisations choose to take stands at party conferences. Increasingly they have a policy of doing the big five, though some organisations (often unions) also appear at the Green Party and Workers Party.

The cost of exhibiting varies between conferences. It’s an essential method for parties to fund their conferences and reduce the cost to their members. However, as an example, I understand that commercial organisations – including public bodies – are being charged £600 for a stand at the UUP conference. Charitable organisations normally receive a 50% discount to exhibit.

Aside from the conference charge, the travel and accommodation costs vary too – with many organisations paying dearly to attend the now itinerant Sinn Fein ard fheis which was in Killarney earlier this year.

Perhaps it’s time for organisations – particularly those strapped for cash – to change their conference attendance criteria, and introduce some flexibility to avoid being a slave to party rates and locations.

Rather than simply committing to an equitable spirit of attending all five big conferences, organisations could have more sophisticated criteria commit to attend up to X number of conferences where the total cost of attending was less than a set limit. This way, organisations wouldn’t find themselves slaves to location and/or inflated party rates.