UK Music’s Party Conference season… from A(berdeen) to B(ournemouth)

UK Music attended six party conferences this year. Interim Head of Public Affairs Hannah McLennan reflects on what we saw on the road, learnings from 2023 and what we might expect from the political parties in 2024. 

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08.11.23: UK Music attended a record six party conferences this year. Interim Head of Public Affairs Hannah McLennan reflects on what she saw on the road, learnings from 2023 and what we might expect from the political parties in 2024. 

Party conference season is the height of the calendar for professionals working across government and public affairs. For the political parties, it’s a chance to introduce new policies, meet key stakeholders, and garner electorate (and financial) support. Some conferences also have a constitutional element, requiring members to vote on certain topics that guide or decide upcoming policy positions.  

With a general election looming – the latest it can take place is January 2025 – the 2023 party conference season felt bigger than ever. 

Liberal Democrat Conference

This year began with the Liberal Democrat Party conference in Bournemouth. UK Music attended as passholders, joining debates in the main conference centre and meeting with key figures from the party. 

I joined for our event on the Monday afternoon, which was a drinks reception at local pizza bar The Stable. We had figures from across the Liberal Democrat Party attend including Peers, party advisors, and several local council leaders. You can read more about our event in this article. 

As well as talking about our Manifesto for Music, it was great to chat with attendees about their impressions of the conference. It was very clear the Liberal Democrat Party are looking to build on their recent by-election wins and local election gains. The mood in Bournemouth felt tentatively optimistic, as the Liberal Democrats form their local-led plan for gaining seats in the most winnable areas. 

Conservative Party Conference

The next stop was Conservative Party conference in Manchester. As well as UK Music’s very successful fringe panel , across the four-day event we met with a number of MPs, Peers, special advisors and stakeholders from the creative industries. 

UK Music's Hannah McLennan and Tom Kiehl sat with Simon Baynes MP holding a UK Music Manifesto For Music report.

Parliamentary Private Secretary to DCMS and Clywd South MP, Simon Baynes with UK Music interim Chief Executive Tom Kiehl, Hannah and UK Music’s Manifesto for Music.  

We attended a number of events whilst at conference, including evening receptions and sector-specific fringe panels. It was particularly useful to attend a panel discussion on AI featuring Viscount Camrose, who acknowledged the balance needed between fostering innovation and ensuring creators are rightfully rewarded, indicating progress towards establishing guiding principles UK Music have been campaigning for. 

With so many announcements during the conference and big hitters in attendance, the Conservative conference showed the Party won’t be leaving without a fight next year. Some pundits reported the conference centre was quieter than normal, but I still felt it had a buzzy atmosphere in the hub of the Manchester Conference Complex and the main hotel bar at The Midland.  

Plaid Cymu Conference 

Whilst the policy team recovered from coach and car journeys back from Manchester, UK Music’s Director of Education and Skills Dr Oliver Morris went to Plaid Cymru Conference in Aberystwyth, Wales. Plaid Cymru influence in Wales is significant and we were very happy to hear Plaid Cymru leader Rhun ap Iorwerth’s pledge to support language and culture. You can read more about what Oliver got up to in Aberystwyth in this article. 

Green Party Conference 

Meanwhile, I was off to Brighton for Green Party Conference. Not a conference I’d been to before, I was fortunate enough to attend culture meetings and meet Baroness Bennett to discuss AI. You can read more about that here 

One of the friendliest faces Hannah met over the conference season.

Overall, I was struck by the Green Party’s very clear strategy at the next election, targeting four seats they have assessed as being most likely to go Green (or stay Green in Brighton Pavillion’s case) at the next election. For a smaller party, this feels like a sensible strategy, and it will be interesting to see how it plays out in in 2024. 

Labour Party Conference

Straight from Brighton I was on the train to Liverpool for Labour Party conference. Once again, we hosted a very well-attended fringe panel and met with stakeholders from the Labour Party. There were several events for the creative industries at Labour conference, which provided us with a key chance to reconnect with colleagues from the sector we might not get to see very often. 

DCMS Secretary of State Lucy Frazer MP, addressing the Conservative Arts & Creative Industries Network (CACIN) drinks reception.

With 15,000 people in attendance, the Labour Party conference was noticeably busier than I’d ever seen it before. I was particularly surprised to find an 8:30am panel on AI on the Monday morning too full to join by 8:15am. Clearly a number of organisations have started hedging their bets already on the result of the next election and topics including AI look to be big priorities going forward. 

Making the most of our time in Liverpool, Matt Taylor from the Music Producers Guild (MPG) very kindly organised a trip for our team to visit Kempston Street Studio (previously Parr Street Studios). It provided an insightful opportunity to hear the issues currently facing music studios from co-owners Rich Turvey and Chris Taylor, plus see the work that went in to making Kempston an inclusive space for women and people with disabilities.  

Hannah, Tom and Dougie visited Kempton Street Studios whilst in Liverpool to talk about some of the issues facing the sector and share UK Music’s Manifesto for Music

Whilst at Conservative and Labour Party Conference we also hosted an evening drinks reception alongside TikTok and The News Movement, featuring a performance from British band Toploader. Before the gig, the band did a Q & A where they discussed several topics, including the importance of grassroots music scenes and music education. They also showed their support for our Manifesto for Music. It’s so important to feature live music at these events to remind people why they should support our brilliant industry. 

Tom with British band Toploader, who performed at Labour and Conservative Conference, with UK Music’s Manifesto for Music.

Scottish National Party

Last, but certainly not least, I went to Scottish National Party (SNP) conference in Aberdeen. Again this was a new one for me. I wrote about meeting Angus Robertson MSP, the Minster for Culture, and others in this article 

This was Humza Yousaf’s first SNP conference as leader, meaning it began with clear scene-setting for the Party on their priorities going forward. I noticed topics including sustainability, nature, mental health and young people were particularly prevalent among the announcements and fringe events. This made for a noticeably pleasant tone to the conference, though obviously independence will continue to dominate SNP plans for the year ahead. 

Ex-ter-min-ate…. These threats to the music industry!

Reflecting on this year’s events, it was definitely helpful to attend with our Manifesto for Music, which clearly set out our priorities as a sector. Indeed, many people commented on how far ahead we are than most sectors by having such a brilliant resource already. It will be exciting over the next year to see what else gets announced. 

There are many questions I’ve been asked since getting back from conference. Which was most fun? Who was the most interesting person you met? But most of all… who is going to win the next election? Right now, your guess is as good as mine, but the party conferences this year did highlight there is still a lot of optimism on all sides, even more policies to come, and a lot of very excited lobbyists.  

Let the countdown begin to party conference 2024… 

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