The last two weeks have seen the MU raise its profile once more at both the Labour and Conservative Party Conferences, in Brighton and Manchester respectively. I caught the train to the former on Friday 21st and checked into our hotel for the week – The Jury’s Inn on the seafront – prior to making the short walk to the Brighton Centre, where I was to meet our stand building team from Modular Exhibition Services.
We had purchased a good spot on the first floor, next to one of the entrances to the main Conference Hall. In fact, the stand would be consistently busy throughout the five open days, with our range of merchandise proving ever-popular. Plus our eye-catching wall design, courtesy of agency Alice & Mo, attracted numerous quizzical visitors and parliamentarians alike.
Our twin topics of the threat to the free movement of musicians across Europe post- Brexit, and the decline of instrumental music tuition in schools, meet with universal support. Our drive to ask delegates to write to their MPs to call for a Musicians’ Passport post-Brexit generated several hundred signed postcards, which we agreed to deliver on their behalf.
Visitors to the stand included a series of notable ministers, MPs and MEPs including John McDonnell, Diane Abbott, Nick Dakin, Tracy Brabin, Alison McGovern, Rory Palmer and Emily Thornberry.
On the Monday evening, I attended a Jamaican music night at local club Prizm in the company of MU Executive Committee member Andi Hopgood. The event, hosted by Dawn Butler MP, had clearly appealed to a considerable number of lively delegates who were up for a relaxing night out. We ran into actor Paul McGann and his wife Annie, and we collectively took up residence at a curved seat in a corner of the club. Jeremy Corbyn then arrived and was soon the subject of many a selfie.
An unexpected visitor to the MU stand one afternoon was presenter Eamonn Holmes, who asked if we would consider contributing to his late afternoon show broadcasting live from the Conference. I swiftly arranged for Naomi Pohl to be interviewed and, following a relatively lengthy spot on the air, the producers stated that we had given the most honest and intriguing review of the event’s proceedings to date.
An additional highlight of our time in Brighton, was our receiving the Organiser’s Award, presented by Eddie Izzard, for Best Stand at the Conference. This is some accolade in view of the fact that the exhibition included stands from Google, Facebook, Sky News, the BBC and numerous other major corporate and trade bodies.
With the Labour Event closing on the Wednesday, I travelled to Manchester the following day and booked in at the Hilton, Deansgate, which is a particularly comfortable and efficient hotel.
On the Friday I walked to the Manchester Convention Centre, this year’s venue for the Conservative Conference and met up once again with our installers as they built our stand. I had caught a heavy cold when in Brighton and I was very glad to be able to rest up on the Saturday before Conference began in earnest on Sunday morning.
Our presence proved a hit once again with the Tory delegates, although clearly there is a little trepidation on the part of some, once it is discovered we are a trade union!
Nicky Morgan, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the MP for Loughborough since the 2010 election, was the most prominent visitor to our stand. Although our thanks also go to James Cleverly MP, Chair of the Conservative Party, who was exceptionally complimentary about our involvement and contribution to the exhibition.
On the Monday evening, we had arranged to host a fringe event, ‘Meet the MU’, in the Lancaster Suite in the Midland Hotel. This involved my booking a band from the Royal Northern College of Music, the excellent Levare Quartet, plus ensuring suitable catering and drinks were in place and the production of promotional literature to hand to delegates in the hours leading up to the event. I even managed to mention the event to PM Boris Johnson when he passed me in a hotel corridor!
All the effort paid off though, as the Suite was soon packed with delegates – we even had people queuing to get in, which is evidently very unusual – and the general feedback seemed to report that we had hosted the best fringe event for the year.
The Conference closes on Wednesday lunchtime with the leader’s speech and this seems to be the one time when delegates clamour to be present in the main hall. The queue for seats snaked its way around the exhibition and passed our stand, so the final morning was a particular success for raising our issues with captive Conservative members.
My fourteen days of Conference activity ended mid-afternoon on Wednesday and I was able to enjoy a couple of non-alcoholic cocktails (I have been off the booze since 31 July) in the Cloud 23 Club at the hotel.
Whether we will continue to maintain a presence at the Conferences in 2020 is to be decided, but I believe we can look back with pride on our most successful conference season to date.