Labour Conference: which agencies are out in force, and what's the mood music at kick-off?

As the Labour Party Conference gets into full swing in Liverpool, members will be losing count of how many mentions of "unity" they are hearing, while public affairs professionals appear not quite as numerous.

Will the Labour Conference help bring 'unity' to the party? (┬ęPAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Will the Labour Conference help bring 'unity' to the party? (┬ęPAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Asked by PRWeek what they would be up to in Liverpool, a number of public affairs agencies told me last week hey would not be going at all, or for less time or with fewer colleagues than previously, although a small gathering on Sunday evening saw young members of the APPC come together to look towards the week ahead.

Clients or the consultants themselves may see limited value in engaging with a party that remains disunited and is seen as unlikely to form a Government any time soon.

The only agency as far as I can see named in the conference programme is MHP, which is running four training sessions. The only agency whose branding I have seen on site within the central secure zone is INHouse Communications – whose co-director is among PM Theresa May's top team - which is sponsoring a lounge alongside clients Diageo and News UK.

Connect Communications - the agency part-owned by former Labour MP Andy Sawford - reckons it may be the best represented agency, with 10 staff present.

The agency counts among its clients the youth programme National Citizen Service, which is the subject of a pending bill promised by the Queen's Speech in May. It is also organising a number of events, including for the All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) that it works for, and anti-fraud and housing clients. One APPG event is on women and work - women's issues appear frequently on the conference fringe agenda, with Burson-Marsteller having hosted one such event on Saturday.

Another agency that will hope to make a bit of a splash among politicos is FleishmanHillard Fishburn, which is organising a drinks event and live screening of the US Presidential debate in the early hours of Tuesday morning, promising "live insights from US colleagues". It repeats the event at the Conservative Conference in Birmingham next week.

A number of public affairs pros have expressed an interest in finding out more about Corbyn-supporting elements. Controversially, a conference organised by his campaign group Momentum is happening simultaneously in Liverpool, and it should expect to welcome a number of suited and booted outsiders curious to take a peak.

Nonetheless, the overall feeling is that a number of consultants are in Liverpool with comparatively little concrete business to do for clients or agency. For these it will as ever be a business development tool, a chance to network and to test the mood among Labour members of all grades.

'Unity' - as predicted at a pre-conference briefing by the agency Champollion last week - is the key theme for Labour this week.

At a rally organised yesterday evening by independent online network Labour List, comedian and sometime activist Eddie Izzard told attendees: "The one thing we've been good at is tearing each other apart." He also reiterated a previous pledge to stand for Parliament. Watch this space.

Shadow Chancellor (and Chairman Mao reader) John McDonnell also addressed the event, calling for everyone to "unite as a party" - although this was rather at odds with a comment later overheard in a bar that the party needed to "stop the Blairites".

Labour List also heard unity's virtues extolled by several other MPs, although Chuka Umunna's plea differed from Corbynite McDonnell in adding that "we are only going to win... if we continue to be a broad church". Unquestioning loyalty to the leader should not, non-Corbynites will hope, be a prerequiste for unity.

Umunna also condemned the online "thuggery and abuse" that has so often come from supporters of re-elected leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Later on at the post-rally reception, there was the odd spectacle of a leader from the GMB union speaking in praise of a large corporation - EDF, which just happened to be a sponsor of the event, and is hoping to ink its Hinkley Point C contract soon. I suppose that's what you call unity.

Conference continues today. PRWeek is in Liverpool until Wednesday.

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