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Life and soul of the party conference

The party conference season is upon us. Tony Blair has recently been to Blackpool to vanquish the TUC, telling them in no uncertain terms why they should back him on Iraq and what their role is in 21st Century society. He will be going back to Blackpool soon to tell his own party the same thing.

Blair is likely to emerge relatively unscathed from the conference season. But what about the hapless Money Marketing reader? More and more financial services companies are attending party conferences – or, more accurately, the Labour party conference – to display their wares to the Government of the day and the court of influencers and opinion-makers that surround it.

What are the do&#39s and don&#39ts of attending a party conference?

1. Do not despair that the Labour party conference is in Blackpool this year. You will be rewarded in heaven and can take comfort that it will be in Brighton again next year.

2. Do think about whether or not you should have a stand at the conference. Stands are very expensive so you will need to be a high-profile company to justify the cost.

3. Do not think about the party conference as a way of influencing the Government. Most MPs, advisers, researchers, hangers-on, lobbyists, you name it, are there to meet and greet each other and catch up on the gossip of the day. They are in no mood to talk about the finer points of Sandler.

4. Do think of it as an ideal opportunity to meet your peer group. More and more, I think of the Labour party conference as a quasi-financial services conference. Almost all the public affairs executives from the major companies will be there and it is a chance to find out what they are up to, their views on key issues and what strategies they are adopting to try and influence the direction of Government policy.

5. Do try and hold a fringe meeting. It allows you to get messages across to your colleagues and you should draw in a few influential advisers and MPs. While they will not necessarily be swayed by what is said, you can at least put names to faces and follow up after the end of the season.

6 Do not drink too much. If you are propping up the bar at 4am, you are an idiot. You will kill yourself.

7. Do go on the big dipper if you have a spare moment.

If you find that dipping your toe into the milieu of the Labour party at play has whetted your appetite, another chance presents itself soon afterwards. The House of Commons pensions select committee is holding hearings into the future of UK pensions and is seeking evidence from interested parties. This means you.

The committee is chaired by the brilliant Archy Kirkwood, a Liberal Democrat MP. Kirkwood has a surprisingly low profile, given the nature of his work, but he has led the committee since 1997 and looks as if he will make do until LibDem leader Charles Kennedy wins a general election – in other words, he will be doing the job for life.

When you go to give evidence, make a particular point of sucking up to two MPs – James Purnell, Blair&#39s former adviser on media policy, who has decided to make pensions his raison d&#39etre as an MP, and Paul Goodman, a former Telegraph journalist, who still retains good media contacts.

The do&#39s and don&#39ts of attending select committees are relatively straightforward, especially as you are not at risk from excessive alcohol intake.

1. Do make your submission short and snappy. There is nothing worse than a long and tedious submission. Two pages are enough.

2. Do make it clear in your covering letter that you want to give evidence.

3. Do keep your submission confidential – it is the committee&#39s property until it publish its report.

4. Do make it clear to the committee if any of your submission is confidential. It will publish what it receives.

5. If, by some miracle, you are called to give evidence, rehearse beforehand. Get colleagues to play the role of MPs and rehearse the likely questions they will ask and answers you will give.

6. During the hearing, do not be put off if MPs seem distracted. Many use the opportunity to sign correspondence or to have a quick nap. MPs pride themselves on being able to do two things at once.

7. Do turn up on time and brush your hair.

Ed Vaizey is a director at Consolidated Communications


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