On a clear Sunday morning, before the official start of this year’s Conservative Conference, assorted activists from across Britain came to Manchester University’s Renold Building to attend the half-day training event run jointly by Conservative Future and the Young Britons’ Foundation.
The morning started with an address from CF Chairman, Michael Rock as he set out the day’s agenda, giving examples of good presentation in front of the cameras, like Daniel Hannan’s speech against Gordon Brown and some not so successful media appearances, like Gordon Brown’s own foray into the on-line world when talking about MPs’ expenses.
Later on, after a further address on how to “frame your message“, one of the conference’s special guest speakers, the blogger Tory Bear, arrived to talk about the uses of on-line media. The talk, sprinkled throughout with anecdotes from TB’s blogging experience, was frank, entertaining and informative. When it moved to the Q&A session, some audience members became a bit competitive in the race to ask the “best question” and win official Tory Bear merchandise….
The main event of the day, after more talks on political campaigning, was the afternoon’s “TV and media training“. For this session, attendees were invited to go in front of the camera to practise answering questions for a “vox-pop” interview. Each recorded interview was replayed on a big screen, with practical advice being offered about how to improve – ranging from tips on posture, how to effectively tackle questions and even, in a few cases, dress!
The interviewer in these scenarios ranged in aggressiveness from being light and casual to adopting a more Paxmanesque ‘assault’ in order to test our ability to handle interviews without being rattled. I was cross-examined over how the Conservatives would improve the rail networks after my admission to arriving that morning on the train and on the Conservatives’ NHS policy; whereas one member of this society’s committee had to deal with an interrogation that began on the unsubstantiated rumour about Gordon Brown taking painkillers and culminated in the interviewer curtly demanding “What drugs do you take?”
The day ended with a party at Manchester’s trendy Font Bar, which had a lively atmosphere and the festivities went on into the late hours of the night…. but unfortunately I had to leave early to catch a return train to London!