Politics.co.uk Blog

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

A profitable day out

Having got an unpleasantly large number of party conferences under the belt, the opportunity to attend a slightly different kind of event had to be grabbed with both hands. The Confederation of British Industry's latest gathering did not disappoint.

Labour leaders are usually guaranteed a good reception at the TUC. The same goes for Tories at the CBI. This year was no exception; the business world poured its affections on David Cameron, while raising their collective eyebrows and sneering their collective upper lips at his newcomer rival Ed Miliband.

What proved more interesting was the behaviour of the delegates, which differed in three moderately fascinating ways from their partisan counterparts.

Political party delegates display a never-ending enthusiasm for applauding – they become uneasy and apprehensive if a speech is not accompanied by regular and fawning clapping.

Businessmen and businesswomen, those titans of industry, are a hardier bunch. It would be very improper, hardly British, for them to indulge in anything so market sensitive as putting two hands together. In handshakes, yes. This is encouraged. In political appreciation, certainly not.

Moderately fascinating observation number two: the reticence of CBI delegates is much more of a lottery.

It stands to reason that your average political punter tottering around a party conference has something to say. It is part of a politician's DNA, however lowly they may be, that they instantly seize upon publicity.

Not so at the CBI. Here corporate reputations must be protected. One woman, who worked for a large bank, insisted she could barely countenance being quoted on a non-attributable basis. Her and her many thousands of colleagues are not allowed to open their mouths on the record, she explained, without it being cleared by the bank's public relations team.

Say what you like about party political press officers, they're never that restrictive.

Finally, CBI delegates are simply more interesting. There is always amusement to be extracted from political small fry who are distressed by their party's policy on x and y, of course. But it is always the case that these dissenting opinions must be extracted from the mass of slavishly loyal sentiments.

Not so at the CBI, where – when they are permitted to open their mouths – delegates are happy to back this party or that one with abandon, saying what they think without having to stick to the party line. How liberating; it would be even more liberating if they didn't all back Cameron over Miliband.

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