Party conferences are places for the faithful to meet and rejoice. But they're also places for businesses to meet and schmooze politicians. One way to do this is to host a panel debate and guide the conversation your way. For example, this year the British Soft Drinks Association held panels at both Labour and Tory conferences, asking, "Will taxing soft drinks create more economic harm than benefit?"
But there's another type of lobbying, which is more subtle and less boring: throw a party. Fill a room of food and booze, and hopefully among the journalists and delegates looking for free canapés you'll get some important politicians who will forget about your industry's questionable ethics, distracted by a really great amuse bouche, or several glasses of wine. 'Say what you like about child obesity,' they will think, 'but I love a good miniature chicken goujon.'
There weren't that many corporate lobbyists at the Labour conference compared to previous years, presumably because they think the party is miles from power and so not worth bothering with. Not so with the Conservatives, where it's incredibly easy to get stuffed and pissed up for free on the corporate pound, so long as you can bear someone boring on about the frightfully important work that happens at ports.
If you think that politics should be somehow free from this kind of money-grabbing influence, you're dreaming. The only thing to do in this situation is embrace it. A couple of beers in and you become very relaxed about the implications this kind of soft power has on our democracy. In that same spirit, I checked out some of the lobbying receptions at this year's Tory conference to find out which was the sickest.
What it was: Association of British Bookmakers party.
Why people might not like them: Because bookmakers have corrupted sport and turned the Great British High Street into a depressing mini Vegas full of people blowing their giro on the greyhounds.
The image they wanted to show: Investing loads in sport advertising, keeping Premier League stars well paid enough to crash their Lamborghinis at will.
What the party was like: The absolute classic, mate – a room full of people drinking wine and eating canapés.
Entertainment: You get to take your picture with some Scottish football trophies, which would maybe be a big deal to some Scottish people.
What the entertainment should have been: Some kind of cock fight or bare-knuckle boxing to gamble on.
If I was a politician, would I be convinced by this? I couldn't see any big name politicians there, which suggests that Tories don't want to be associated with this particular vice.
What it was: Heathrow and Gatwick airports competing to be picked as the place to expand Britain's airport capacity.
Why people might not like them: Climate change ought to be a bigger deal, but the real problem is that local MPs can't be seen to be cool about loads more planes flying over people's back gardens.
The image they wanted to show: Completely vital for the national economy, an engine for local jobs and much, much better than any other airport you may be thinking of expanding into.
What the party was like: Heathrow sponsored a party in the "sky bar" of a hotel that I failed to blag my way into, but if previous form is anything to go by, I'm going to assume "very boring". At both the Labour and Conservative conferences Heathrow erected an airport-style lounge, i.e. places people hate being, to promote themselves.
Entertainment: I don't know as I didn't get in. But I also briefly went to a Gatwick reception at the Labour conference, where people were crowding into a stuffy room to hear somebody mumbling quietly about airports. The booze had run out so I didn't stay long.
What the entertainment should have been: Rather than building a stupid airport lounge they should have replicated a private jet owned by an oligarch: basically a little pod you can enter, where cocaine and champagne is available on tap.
If I was a politician, would I be convinced by this? To be fair, maybe sitting in a fake airport lounge would convince me that long waits at overcrowded airports are a bad thing, meaning we should expand our capacity at once.
What it was: The British Association of Shooting and Conservation – country folk with guns. This one doesn't really count as corporate, to be fair.
Why people might not like them: Landed gentry cackling as they carry out a badger genocide and shoot pheasants just to watch them flop out of the sky.
The image they wanted to portray: Vermin exterminating stewards of the countryside, reconnecting children with nature and a lifeline for the rural economy, without which the countryside would be just some fields. "Shooting is at the heart of what rural Britain does."
What the party was like: A drab, half empty hotel room where people pawed at tepid goujons and talked about the best type of shotgun with which to murder wildlife.
Entertainment: Andrea Leadsom giving a speech, so not all that fun. But in the conference centre they have a digital shooting simulator.
What the entertainment should have been: A real shooting range where you get to blast animal rights activists away.
If I was a politician, would I be convinced by this? It was a crap party, but I reckon convincing Tories to kill things can't be all that hard.
What it was: Forest and The Tobacco Manufacturers Association – the fags lobby.
Why people might not like them: For pushing cancer sticks.
The image they wanted to portray: If you want to pay to slowly poison your body for little discernible gain, then that's your choice. Also, you can vape now, which is less cool – but if we talk enough about that maybe you'll forget the cancer?
What the party was like: Actually really good. An upper-middle market bar packed to the gills with free booze, mini burgers, pocket ash-trays (a weird plastic wallet thing you can carry around) inscribed with the words, "Say no to outdoor smoking bans," and leaflets about how "A once benign nanny state has become a bully state, coercing rather than educating adults to give up tobacco."
Entertainment: It was advertised as "Eat. Drink. Smoke. Vape.", so like all good parties there were no frills beyond the amount of inebriants you could stuff in your body.
What the entertainment should have been: The same but with the film Breathless projected onto one of the walls, because that's hands down the best advert for smoking ever made.
If I was a politician, would I be convinced by this? Yeah, this was a convincing a case for freedom to chose. Almost as convincing as talking to a doctor about why you shouldn't smoke.
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