Political parties are said to be in crisis: voters are less loyal and members more difficult to recruit and to mobilise (Whiteley and Seyd, 2002). However, they seem to encounter fewer difficulties in attracting members to their regular national gatherings. British party conferences are amongst the biggest political meetings of the Western world.1 In the early 1990s, Labour and the Conservatives claimed up to 6000 participants. As the 1997 general election drew closer, the anticipated change of government made conferences more attractive: the Conservatives dispatched more than 11,000 passes2 in 1996, nearly twice as many as Labour.3 Attendance figures are increasingly viewed as a testimony of the popularity of the party and efforts are made to attract visitors, whether members or not. The number of passes issued has turned into an arms race with all parties competing. In 2002, the Liberal Democrats claimed to have delivered 4500 passes4 and Labour 25,000.5 Beyond delegates and representatives, conference attracts many other participants from local party apparatchiks, would-be politicians and local councillors, MPs, lobbyists and diplomats, cause group activists and journalists. The party in government has the advantage because it can claim to be closest to the corridors of power. Lobbyists, businesses and interest groups are all eager to be informed of future policy orientations as well as to make useful contacts.
KeywordsEurope Income Coherence Expense Arena
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