This week, like most Septembers, I have been at my party’s annual conference. This year it is in Brighton. The Liberal Democrats met last week, the Conservatives gather the week after and at the start of September the Trade Unions met for their annual congress.
Whichever party you belong to, the conference is a chance to meet old friends, debate new policies, discuss this year’s election campaign and prepare for the challenges to come.
Much of the time is spent away from the main conference hall however. And no, I am not talking about the hostelries of Brighton! As well as party activists, many businesses and campaign organisations attend and are always a very useful source of knowledge and information about current issues facing the nation.
For example, I had a discussion with the Salvation Army about their community work supporting vulnerable groups in society, especially on supported housing programmes, where cuts to funding meaning more vulnerable people may be at risk of homelessness. They also lead on supporting victims of human trafficking and modern slavery, something that Chester Cathedral and Diocese is also very active on.
And there are many discussions with industry. I chair the Parliamentary Aerospace Committee, and I joined a detailed discussion about that sector to hear of their current challenges, including how complicated and potentially damaging Brexit is for the sector. With Airbus, Raytheon and others based in our area, this is a crucial sector for our local economy. I also had a meeting with the new management of BT Openreach to hear about their plans for improving broadband coverage in Chester – another campaign I have been battling since I was first elected.
There are always plenty of journalists around looking for a story at party conferences, but the four days are a useful way to catch up with real issues besides the hype in the media.
Political conferences are a useful week and offer something different. That said, it is always nice to get back home to get on with the important part of the job, which is fighting for Chester in Westminster.