"Another half-empty conference hall this morning. It's been like that most days at all the major party conferences. Thousands of people there but few of them willing to sit through the pre-packed, made-for-TV, corporate-away-day-style presentations that the parties have substituted for what we used to call debates."
For starters was he at Bournemouth where the one party that does have debates on policy still, well, debated? For seconds I'm not sure about the other parties but at the Lib Dem conference it was a key time for training and other opportunities. This was the last full week before the general election ahead that all the party will be gathered for so long in one place. I'd be shocked if the other parties didn't also have some training for candidates, agents, councillors, activists etc going on along side the main event.
So yeah there is a pre-packed, made-for-TV, corporate-away-day-style element to party conferences, but when the inevitable is just around a corner, a General Election there are other things just as pressing for the typical conference attendee.
Of course Nick is quite right that the main stage at the Labour and Conservative conferences does lack the drama of actually debating something, anything of substance. The Liberal Democrats though can still be seat of your pants stuff as someone else lays into another element of the party, or the leadership. Or if somebody suddenly turns out to have changed their view on nuclear power, or Europe or heaven forbid the type of electoral reform we need. It gets all the more interesting if speaker after speaker from the Policy Committee speaks against parts of their own motion, then you know that something is afoot.
But then the BBC called that wrong. When they see real debate they call it division. You see the BBC really want to have the stage-managed, pre-packed, made-for-TV, corporate-away-day-style presentations that Nick complains about. They then know what is going on in the main hall and can wander off elsewhere and try and trip up PPCs (although the Tories will keep stoom), create their own news, try to find a leadership battle (lacking in Brighton to their dismay), or whatever. The problem with the Lib Dems is that we could through a spanner in the works with their careful planning. Andrew Neil, Nick Robinson et al, may be away looking for something to do when a vote goes unexpectedly (for the media) in the hall, the body politic has spoken.
Jennie wrote at the time of our conference that the media didn't get Lib Dem conference. Now we have Nick Robinson complaining, yet compalining about just what they didn't understand at the Lib Dem conference as being missing. Looks like facts can really never get in the way of a good BBC moan.