Like Wimbledon and the Proms, the annual ritual of the Party Conferences has been absorbed into our national life. The TUC Congress opens at the end of August, still good for seaside holidays and very much a family event for trade-unionists and their wives. This year the Liberal Democrats followed a fortnight later, swallowed up like every party by the vulgar vastness of Blackpool, as the whole of Northern England arrives to see the Lights. Labour took the third slot, also at Blackpool, and the Conservatives brought matters to a close, at Bournemouth, well into October. There was a time, long ago, when lesser resorts like Margate, Scarborough and Llandudno were on the Conference circuit. But for many years Blackpool and Brighton were alone capable of accommodating the large numbers of delegates, visitors, press, lobbyists and hangers-on. The delegates, often making their first and only visit to Conference, compare notes, touch the hem of their readers’ garments and marvel at it all. They attend fringe meetings with the eagerness of students in the early days of the WEA. But the Conference proceedings remain the set-piece around which the jamboree revolves.
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