I hope to put a longer piece here about today's conference in time, but for the moment a few quick summary thoughts.
1. The brains are in the media rather than parliament - the most interesting analyses came from Andrew Neil and Matthew D'Ancona (despte D'Ancona's initial shakiness when confronted with an audience of young people!), while the parliamentary representatives, Opik and Johnson, were weak and superficial.
2. Boris Johnson is no longer funny. His routine today was tragic - no other word for it. This man has forsaken any interest in a serious political career because he is obsessed by his own celebrity, and that requires him to do the bumbling Boris act more or less continuously!
3. Lembit Opik is still a crowd pleaser. He showed this weakness at Bristol, where he and I were on opposite sides of a freedom of speech issue (he as union president, me as vice-chairman of the Tories) - he hasn't changed.
4. Good old tub thumping politics is a joy - the Respect chap was great; a typical argumentative socialist, and the crowning triumph of his session was the mutual abuse between him and Simon O'Donnell's new friend. A brilliant session - politics in the raw. Take note, Monday debaters!
5. Crowds are as fickle as ever - they booed and cheered Mr. Respect within the space of a minute. "For he is an honourable man" - just read your Mark Anthony in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar Act 3 Scene 2; a masterclass in crowd manipulation.
6. Shami Chakrabarti is really worthy, over intense and actualy rather dull. And I don't think freedom is as doomed as she is suggesting.
7. Some lecturers can be funny; others use sex as a way of getting self-conscious teenagers to laugh along with them. You decide about Philip Cowley! That said, his session was extremely valuable, and you can read his basic thesis in the current 'Politics Review' Vol.16 No. 2, p.20. Also check out his website, Revolts - linked at the right of this blog. And his sex graph was all wrong.....
8. Simon O'Donnell is prepared to put his money where his mouth his - one of the most loquacious of the politics set at least had the courage to go and ask a couple of questions in fromt of 2,000 people. His first question went well and got the wretched Opik to describe his friend Mark Oaten as having 'exotic' taste; the second question was ceded to someone bigger than him.
More thoughts to follow, especially on Gordon Brown, the phantom presence at today's conference - but after the weekend.