Labour: putting the ‘con’ into conference

I get to go to some strange and exotic places in the course of researching my stories for Flight International, but it looked as though I was going to have to make a rare step into the political arena next month to report on an interesting-looking aerospace event in the UK.

I received an invitation from the Society of British Aerospace Companies (SBAC) to attend a joint meeting with the Amicus trade union as a side – or “fringe” – event to next month’s Labour Party Conference in Manchester. Unfortunately the invitation – which concerned a debate on the UK’s Defence Industrial Strategy to include a presentation by defence secretary Des Browne – arrived too late for me to register ahead of a 28 July party deadline to sign up for free media accreditation.

Well that’s a nuisance, I thought, but as such deadlines are usually only there for guidance I reckoned it would probably only be a small fee for me to sign up a few weeks late. A quick call to Labour’s conference unit soon put that belief in its place though: “Ah yes, but as you’re signing up late there’s a registration fee of 」360,” I was told. After a bit of expert haggling I was instead offered a fringe-only pass at a knock-down rate of just 」230. “We’re having to absorb increased administration costs this close to the event,” the official on the other end of the line told me. No kidding!

But resilience is an important part of journalism, so I tried another avenue within the party machine and have received some good news – I can now go to the event, and at a much cheaper rate of only 」36! There’s just one catch to this opportunity though: to take advantage of this give-away rate I would actually be required to join the Labour Party.

I have a fundamental problem with this proposal though: the party website tells me that signing up by direct debit will “save the Party 」5 a year which can be spent on campaigning, not admin”. Now I know Labour has the small matter of a 」27 million ($50 million) hole in its finances to concern itself with, but I really don’t think that trying to encourage reporters to compromise their journalistic integrity is the right way for it to cover its debt.

So with apologies to the SBAC and Amicus, this is one party that I’m not interested in attending. But I’d better not say too much here, because if the events at Labour’s conference in Brighton last year are anything to go by (remember the rough treatment afforded to 82 year-old Walter Wolfgang?), then heckling could still be dangerous�

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