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Party Conferences – what are they and why you should attend?

The AoC public affairs team are planning a bigger presence than ever at this year’s party conferences which are likely to be the last before the anticipated General Election next year. We will be holding fringe sessions at both Labour and Conservative conferences, as well as co-hosting dinner discussions with key stakeholders. We already know that some college leaders regularly attend these conferences and we wanted to provide some information on what they are, why they could be beneficial and how we can support.

This year the three major party conferences are as follows:

Liberal Democrats (Bournemouth) – Sunday 23 – Tuesday 26 September

Conservative (Manchester) – Sunday 30 September – Wednesday 4 October

Labour (Liverpool) - Sunday 8 – Wednesday 11 October

What are party conferences?

Party conferences are multi-day events held by political parties. They offer parties the opportunity to discuss important issues, raise revenue, connect with their membership, and attract media attention. Importantly for Lib Dem and Labour members, party conferences offer the chance for party members to debate and vote on party issues.

Party conferences are massive events, with hundreds of fringe sessions on a range of specialist topics, exhibitions and displays from large organisations, networking receptions and speeches from the party’s leadership.

In terms of who normally goes to party conferences, this can include media journalists, politicians, party members and representatives from think tanks, trade unions and membership organisations (like us).

Why should you attend party conference?

Party conferences are a great opportunity to connect and expand networks, learn about policy makers thinking on a variety of issues, advocate for your priorities and to keep informed on the latest developments in politics.

  • Networking and expanding networks: party conferences attract a wide range of attendees including politicians and business leaders. This audience creates an ideal environment for making new connections and sharing ideas.
  • Learn what policy makers are thinking: Conferences are a good way to meet with policy makers and understand their thinking on a variety of issues. Often Ministers and Shadow Ministers will attend fringe sessions (smaller sessions outside of the main speeches) related to their portfolio and this gives attendees an insight to their thinking and the opportunity to learn more about their priorities.
  • Advocate for the sector: Conferences are a great opportunity to advocate for the sector and your college. You can meet with your local and neighbouring MPs, ask questions during fringe sessions, and talk about the sector and the work you are doing during networking events.
  • Keeping informed: Party conferences are when all of Westminster and its journalists are in one place. They feature keynote speeches from party leadership and panel discussions, and that delve into issues and upcoming legislative agendas. There are often policy announcements during party conferences that you will be the first to find out about.
Public Affairs Manager David MacKenzie and Burnley MP Antony Higgenbotham

How can I attend?

You can attend by registering on the party conference websites. We know that not all college leaders will have the time or resources to attend, especially if you are located far away from where the conference is taking place. Passes can be expensive, as can accommodation in the area. Booking in advance is encouraged.

It’s worth noting that while delegates need a pass to access the main conference hall where speeches take place, there are many fringe events that are happening around the main conference centre and in town that don’t require a pass to access. The guides for these events haven’t been released, but once they are we will share them with members. This could mean that local colleges may be able to attend a session nearby to get a flavour of what party conferences are all about at minimal cost.

How can we support?

Members of the team will be attending each of the three conferences, so if you are coming along do let us know.–We’d be delighted to meet up for a coffee if you are there.

We can also support you by accompanying you to any MP meetings you have booked and providing a briefing on the most up-to-date sector issues.

We’ll provide more information on our plans and how to get involved after the summer break, but if you are interested in attending but have a few questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us at