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Political party conferences – what do they have to do with Christian Aid?

As you have probably noticed from the newspapers, TV and radio stations, we are in the middle of political party conference season.  Over the next week or so I’ll be letting you know about what has happened so far and what will be happening at the three main conferences.

Every year, part of my job is to lead the organisation and delivery of Christian Aid’s work at the UK political party conferences. 

During September and October, the three main political parties – the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats – hold a conference which brings together their party members with their leadership, and normally with many of their local councillors, MPs, Peers, MSPs, AMs and MEPs as well. 

These are big events in the political calendar, with the parties discussing and debating their policies on every area you could imagine, and with their Cabinet and Shadow Cabinet members giving keynote speeches which signal the direction that the party will be taking on each policy area.

The conferences are a unique opportunity to make new contacts with MPs, ministers and their advisers, and to make sure that they are hearing our messages about the need for policy changes that will help the world’s poorest people, in particular our two current campaigns on tax dodging and climate change. 

One of the ways in which we have an impact is by organising and taking part in events on the ‘fringe’ of the conference. These can include church services, receptions and rallies but typically they operate like short debates focussed on a particular question about a policy area.

There is a chair (often a journalist or someone from the political party whose conference it is) and a panel of speakers, which includes at least one spokesperson from the party, and representatives of NGOs and/ or businesses.

Each of the panel members speaks for a few minutes and then the audience can ask questions or make comments, so that there is a proper debate about the issue.

This year at each of the three conferences we (that is, me and my colleague Ashley King) have organised Christian Aid fringe debates on climate change and on tax – our two main campaign issues.

We are also involved in some fringe debates with other development organisations on broader questions about the direction of UK policy on international development, and with some church services. 

It’s been a busy start already – having had the Lib Democrat conference last week and Labours finishing this week. Keep an eye out for how we got on at both of these conferences in the next few days.

 About the author

Melanie Ward

Melanie Ward is Christian Aid's senior UK political adviser