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Tue, 27 October 2020

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By Hft

Here's An Early Sight Of The Virtual Conference The Tories Are Hoping Will Salvage Their Autumn Funding Stream

Here's An Early Sight Of The Virtual Conference The Tories Are Hoping Will Salvage Their Autumn Funding Stream
3 min read

The Tories have given party conference season a fully virtual makeover by creating a computer game-style event complete with green fields, sofas and chairs, and interactive doorways.

Pictures shared exclusively with PoliticsHome by the Conservative party show the virtual conference hall around which delegates can walk up to traditional stall holders for a “chat”. They can also visit fringe events in white tents in a field, and then head through to an auditorium to watch Boris Johnson, the Chancellor, Foreign Secretary and others give their speeches.

Website Politico reported in the summer that the virtual stalls in an online exhibition hall at the conference had prices ranging from £6,000 to £25,500 plus VAT.

It is £850 to attend as a business guest, £100 a guest, and it is also possible to sign up as an observer. The annual conference is a lucrative endeavor for the Conservatives, with the party making £1.5million on last year's event, and £2million in 2017. Conferences are usually huge money spinners for political parties, but the Coronavirus pandemic has threatened to wipe out this income stream.

The virtual conference, which should have been held in Birmingham this year, is the brainchild of party co-chair Amanda Milling, who told PoliticsHome: “We’ve built a platform where it will look and feel like a conference but on a computer screen.

“You’ll go in and there’ll be the entrance area - the foyer - then you’ll be able to go into different parts. You’ll be able to go into the auditorium or you can go to fringe events. We’ve got a brilliant line up of fringe events.

“Then there’s the exhibition area where you can go into a stand and chat to exhibitors there.

“It is the full conference experience but online. The team have done an absolutely brilliant job.”

Asked if they have created a form of computer game, Milling said: “It literally is, you’re going to go into different places!

“You will go into the auditorium, you have those watching on, you’ve got it all laid out and the speech area as well.”

The traditional autumn party conference season was forced to move entirely online this year because of coronavirus and has so far seen Labour’s Keir Starmer give a live-streamed speech in a near empty room in Doncaster and leader of the Lib Dems, Ed Davey, stood on his own at an orange podium to speak direct to cameras.

Milling, who became co-chair alongside Ben Elliott in 2020, and the conference team at Conservative Campaign Headquarters in Westminster aswell as senior party representatives dreamt up the idea to try to create a far more advanced virtual experience than other parties, with lots of fringe events, and question and answer sessions.

They are understood to have hired in a top tech firm to create the experience, but will not release the details of who they are until after the event for security reasons.

“Obviously we’re disappointed we’re not going to be in Birmingham but we couldn’t possibly hold a physical conference this year. So it’s actually been an opportunity to do things a little bit differently,” she said.

The party is understood to have hired a venue in east London location for the cabinet ministers to do their speeches from, which will be filmed and screened online, and will have a more traditional party conference backdrop.

Milling opens the conference on Saturday, with Home Secretary Priti Patel speaking on Sunday, Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s speech on Monday and the Prime Minister’s on Tuesday.

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