George Eustice: Chance to shine in conference season

With conference season about to get under way, all three parties will have spent the past couple of weeks putting the finishing touches to their plans and speeches.

George Eustice: 'Conference seasongives a party a rare opportunity to get noticed with four days of coverage on the evening TV bulletin
George Eustice: 'Conference seasongives a party a rare opportunity to get noticed with four days of coverage on the evening TV bulletin

In every conference I was involved in, we used to try to agree themes and announcements during July so that our events people had plenty of time to plan. But we invariably ended up doing most of the work on a 'just in time' basis during September, causing huge stress to organisers along the way. Delaying things as long as possible means you can tune your pitch more accurately to the prevailing news agenda and the pressure of time in September is what focuses minds.

Conference season is always a high stakes exercise for political parties. Media scrutiny is at its highest and sentiment at its most febrile. Because the Conservative conference comes last, it has the added disadvantage that journalists can be tired and fractious, having already spent two weeks on the road. There are a multitude of things than can go wrong and many unhelpful stories just waiting to catch fire. Media handlers will do all they can to mitigate risk but will frequently find themselves fire fighting.

However, it also gives a political party a rare opportunity to break through and get noticed with four days of solid coverage on the main evening TV bulletins. To make sure that huge exposure leaves a positive impression with the public rather than a negative one, a party needs to have at least one substantial announcement every day. It must hold the top line of the news agenda leading up to the final day where the leader's speech will carry the news on its own steam, and where the objective should be to project a consistent message and connect the announcements of the preceding days to a coherent theme.

It is easier said than done and great care must be taken to ensure you get off on the right foot on the Sunday of conference. A welter of unhelpful headlines in the Sunday papers is every party leader's nightmare, so caution is needed when Cabinet members give interviews to the weekend papers.

George Eustice is Conservative MP for Camborne and Redruth and a former press secretary to David Cameron.

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