25th September 2008

Manchester still manages to shine despite Labour party woes

While political commentators might have spent more time analysing the attempts of Gordon Brown to unite his party behind. . .

<p>While political commentators might have spent more time analysing the attempts of Gordon Brown to unite his party behind him after a year of almost continuous discontent - and the impact of Ruth Kelly's resignation on the prime minister's efforts to be the centre of attention - the Labour party conference, held this year in the city of Manchester, also threw up a few talking points for conference industry aficionados.</p><p>After last year's gathering in Bournemouth - a Gordon Brown love-in to mark his first conference as party leader and prime minister following Tony Blair's resignation on June 27th - the Labour party returned to Manchester. The city must have made quite an impression on the Labour faithful, as it was also the scene of the 2006 event. </p><p>The venue, too, must have been a hit, as it has joined Manchester in being selected again by conference organisers. In 2008, as in 2006, the conference was held at Manchester Central - although in 2006 the building was still known as the GMEX centre. The grade II-listed construction is a former railway station, but has since been transformed into a state-of-the-art centre for conferences and exhibitions. Conversion work was started in 1982, GMEX was opened four years later and the Manchester International Convention Centre (MICC) - which includes an 804-seat auditorium, breakout rooms and the Great Northern Hall - was added in 2001. The name change came about after both GMEX and MICC were acquired by Manchester City Council.</p><p>However, this year's conference has not generated as much excitement as the one in 2006 - although this is no way a reflection of the suitability of Manchester, and Manchester Central in particular, as a conference venue. The opening day of the conference might have been moved forward from Sunday to Saturday to allow more ordinary working folk to attend, but businesses in particular showed a lack of appetite to associate themselves with Labour at the event.</p><p>According to the Evening Standard, a number of firms - including BAe Systems, Nestle and BAA - decided not to exhibit at the conference, with their places filled with charities, campaign groups and organisations with an established affiliation with the political party. This is reminiscent of the situation the Conservatives found themselves during the run-up to the election in 1997 - when Labour's Tony Blair swept to power at John Major's expense.</p><p>Despite this set-back, conference organisers have attempted to make this year's event fresh and interesting in a bid to attract more people and organisations. For instance, politicians at the conference interacted with members of the public online at an event hosted by Microsoft and the Social Market Foundation. Using Second Life as a forum, minister Tom Watson and members of the business community were able to deliver their message to Labour supporters unable to make it in person to Manchester. Those who did make the effort to attend could rest assured that their safety was being looked after thanks to the use of a new state-of-the-art control room.</p><p>It remains to be seen, though, how next year's conference organisers will attempt to improve on the standard set by Manchester - and, indeed, who the Labour party leader will be when it takes place.<br/><img alt="ADNFCR-1753-ID-18798116-ADNFCR" src="http://feeds.directnews.co.uk/feedtrack/justcopyright.gif?feedid=1753&it..." /></p>