I am a big fan of Party Conference. When I was an Association Officer, it was a key date in the diary and it has been that way ever since - through my campaigns as Parliamentary Candidate in 1992 and 1997 and in the years since I have been a Conservative MEP for the North West.
Unless you have been to a Conservative Conference you may not appreciate all it has to offer. It's not like a Labour Conference with 'composite motions' and points of order to the 'Chair'. And it certainly isn't in the same mould as the Liberal Democrats with their 'grotesque chaos' of votes on policies that can never be delivered.
Yes, Conference is an opportunity to socialise and meet up with like-minded friends from around the UK but it is also an opportunity to listen to the views and experiences of others; to share information on the issues of the day and, of course, to seek to influence policy.
This year's Conference, when we returned to Birmingham, will, I believe rank among one of the best. With a whole series of policy announcements from a refreshed Cabinet cheered the troops and helped to dispel any mid-term blues.
Sunday saw the Conference kick off with a barn storming speech by the Foreign Secretary William Hague and, later that night, members from around the North West attended the Party's North Reception with David Cameron. Our Regional Director, Diane Clarke, and the North West Chairman, Adrian Mitchell, should be thanked for organising such a great event. As an MEP who covers more than 70 constituencies, from the Scottish Borders to the Cheshire plains, the North Reception is a great opportunity to meet many of our members and activists in one room all at once...
Monday saw our new Transport Secretary's speech to Conference, including a fabulous video clip of when he first spoke, as a recent ex-miner from Derbyshire in front of Margaret Thatcher. I was also pleased to hear that we will cap rail fare increases to RPI +1% - for both 2013 and 2014. Later that day, I attended the event by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), following the recent news that the UK is now a net exporter of cars for the first time since 1976! I also met with representatives of the Conservative Clubs - as their North West President - the Clubs do a fantastic job and, with more than 220 Conservative Clubs across the North West there is one near you!
The next day, Tuesday, featured the LGBTory reception with the new Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Maria Miller MP followed by an event hosted by Manchester Airports Group and a flying visit to a reception hosted by the Conservative Friends of Israel. That evening, I was also guest speaker at an event to promote 'Britain's Energy Coast' in West Cumbria. I am huge supporter of our nuclear industry and the work at Sellafield is truly world-class. The work to bring further jobs to this region has recently been boosted by a £5.6 million grant from the Regional Growth Fund and I will be doing all I can to support growth in this part of the region.
The final day of the Conference is dominated by the Leader's Speech and, yet again, David Cameron proved why he is the right man to lead our Party: "We are the party of the want to be better-off, those who strive to make a better life for themselves and their families – and we should never, ever be ashamed of saying so."
At this Conference we have shown that the Conservative Party is the serious party in British politics facing up to the difficult challenges of a changed world. We understand that the country is in a moment of jeopardy, but we have a plan to deal with it:-
Tackling the debt crisis left by Labour, reducing public spending so we live within our means.
Insisting on higher standards and discipline in our schools, so our children and our country can succeed.
Reforming our welfare system so it pays to work and ending the something for nothing culture that’s been choking our country.
We’re doing this to back people who hard and want to get on in life. We are the party of people who want to be better off, who strive to make a better life for themselves and their families. Labour are ducking the difficult challenges facing this country. Their only plan is to spend more and borrow more. This is a massive gamble with our economy and our future. We’re here because they spent too much and borrowed too much. How can the answer be more borrowing and more debt? Labour isn’t learning.
I've posted on my Facebook page some pictures from Conference - the one above is me with some of the great team from my home city of Liverpool! - and I'm now really looking forward to next year's Conference, here in the North West, in Manchester!