Rural reflections on the party conference season

Rural reflections on the party conference season
17 October 2014 by Richard Quallington, Interim Chief Executive

I read in my local paper that my MP had decided not to go to his party conference this year as it was “full of lobbyists and media and none but the most politically ambitious attend”. Having been to two of the conferences this year, I can understand the comment - but as someone who attended to represent the interests of rural communities, I realised that part of the criticism was aimed at me.

In a world of 24/7 news, we all rely on the media to keep us up to date with what is happening in the world and I would even go so far as to say that it is the media that, by and large, keeps the electorate informed on party politics. We we may hear it all too many times - but at least the media does keep us informed and, if we use several sources, we may overcome some any bias.

And if lobbyists are not welcome at the party conferences how else are groups going to raise issues that they think are important? ACRE is in no way anything like some of the major lobbying groups. However, I did think it important to be able to speak at fringe meetings about the issues around rural transport, fuel poverty, rural microbusinesses or to raise questions about how the Government ensures that its policies do not unfairly disadvantage rural areas.

As for the politically ambitious? I saw the same faces at the same fringe events albeit with a slightly different political hue. In fact, I was one of those speaking about, for example, the higher cost of fuel for those in rural areas not on the gas grid. It was slightly surreal to be brushing alongside people that you only normally see on TV; journalists keen to advance their careers or politicians keen to be seen to be engaging on the issues that matter. Does their ambition matter? Not if it gives a level of access and debate which is normally difficult to achieve.

Finally, I heard the term ‘Westminster bubble’ referred to frequently and the reality was that being inside the hermetically sealed secure zone was very much like being in a theme park or at a festival, where normal life was temporarily suspended. With my security-vetted ‘access all areas’ pass I could choose which of the hundreds of talks, presentations, workshops, roundtables, receptions etc. running from 7.00 to 23.00 each day to attend… and just like all the stages at Glastonbury, you can’t do it all!

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