What do you think Party Conferences are all about? From watching the news you might well assume that all the action is in the main hall, as ministers (and wannabe leaders?) set out their stall to the party faithful.
But in reality, they’re about much more than that. I thought it might be helpful to offer a small insight into what goes on behind the scenes.
First, security is incredibly tight. Police drones buzz above the queues to enter the conference centre. Armed police stand on every corner, and snipers patrol the roofs of nearby buildings.
Once inside, much of the important work is done far away from the main stage. Regular column readers will know I’ve been working with the charities Young Minds and the Children’s Society on the impact of cyberbullying on young people’s mental health. So in Birmingham I met with Facebook for them to update me on the steps they’re taking in light of my parliamentary report last year to improve transparency and better protect under-18s.
Second, I was able to meet experts to discuss an issue, originally raised with me by the National Star College and St Vincent’s and George’s, about better support for the life-changing work of companies like Specsavers in Cheltenham who are providing transformational job opportunities for people with disabilities.
Bizarrely though, one of the most helpful encounters was with West Midlands police officers outside the centre who were on cycles. You may know that I’m campaigning for Cheltenham officers to patrol on bikes to increase visibility. These officers raved about bikes’ effectiveness for accessing known hotspots quickly in urban neighbourhoods, and engaging with the general public.
Just imagine what could be achieved in Cheltenham. So I’ll be meeting our Cheltenham superintendent next week to press for similar patrols here at home. If we can borrow Birmingham’s example to improve police visibility in Cheltenham, that alone will have made the trip worthwhile.