I have just got back from the Conservative Conference in Birmingham. An opportunity for Boris to shine, for Dave to set out his stall and possibly our last visit to this great city.
On Monday evening the Mayor arrived to speak at a meeting hosted by Conservative Home in Hall 1 of the International Conference Centre. With an audience of around 1,000, Boris was on form and virtually all of his material was brand new. He particularly took pains to emphasise his loyalty to David Cameron, pointing out that a Conservative victory in London could be mirrored by a Conservative victory in government.
On Tuesday it was time for the Big Performance, with the large Symphony Hall reserved for the London Mayor. Boris acolytes arrived early, hanging around the conference hotel bar. The bridge that links the hotel to the conference centre was the setting for a media ambush, with hordes of photographers and TV cameras lined up to snap Boris as he passed. A great queue formed outside the symphony hall - a needless effort as there was plenty of room inside.
I ensconced myself in a great seat in the wings, almost on the stage - it must have been a good position because half way through the speech I was joined by several newspaper photographers trying to get a close shot of Boris. David Cameron arrived and sat half way back in the centre of the auditorium.
Boris proceeded to produce what in my opinion was his best speech ever. It was a peak performance for a politician who many members would like to see leading the government. Boris referred to David Cameron as 'a broom sweeping up after Labour' and he paid tribute to 'George Osborne the dustpan, Michael Gove the J cloth and William Hague the sponge' - something of a double edged compliment.
He returned to his theme of manufacturing in London, our products including cake from Walthamstow, mosquito repellent and every chocolate hobnob in the world. He paid tribute to the efforts of young people in the Soho film industry - a line that provoked some unscripted titters, but Boris recovered smoothly and moved on from what could have been a Carry on City Hall moment.
He asked what great advantages the city had - 'YOU!!' shouted some enthusiasts in the crowd. No, No, Boris shook his head - he meant the Conservative Government, of course...
Coffee With Cameron
In a conference which has become more corporate in recent years, coffee lounges have sprung up to serve the needs of select thirsty delegates. The initiative was pioneered by Jo Tanner's In House Communications who provided a London Lounge in conjunction with Starbucks last year. They were back for Birmingham and Total Politics magazine had set up a similar operation nearby.
On Monday morning I was one of the first into the London Lounge, having evaded a first night hangover unlike many other delegates. The barrista set out to make a Nicaraguan brew for me - a lengthy undertaking involving watching the coffee percolating through a filter, slowly filling up a giant mug.
I glanced at my watch (again), then glanced up to find the Prime Minister who had arrived with only a couple of advisors in tow. David Cameron spoke to the Starbucks staff and paused for a photograph with them. After some minutes he departed - having drunk my coffee...
Women To Win
Also on Monday, I joined Women to Win for a packed out meeting to discuss the selection process and provide tips for candidates. The impending police commissioner elections have thrown the timetable for candidate selection off course, although the new party chairman has now decreed that the most marginal target seats will be filled as a priority. Assessment boards for European Parliament candidates are currently working their way through the long list of applicants.
It was heartening to see such a large number of ambitious women who want to become MPs despite the recent expenses scandal and the difficulty of securing a seat. Many were in for the long term haul, seeing themselves winning in later elections than 2015. They are right and it is never too early to embark on a political career - likely to be a lengthy undertaking with many ups and downs on the way.
Is This the Last Time?
I like Birmingham. The city is welcoming, the facilities are good (unlike Bournemouth), it doesn't rain all the time (unlike Manchester) and it is not too far from London (unlike Blackpool), and I look forward to the Birmingham conferences. So I was disappointed to hear a rumour that we might not be returning. The cost of security - it was said - is now too high for the city compared to the business benefits, so they will be discouraging party conferences in future. Let's hope it isn't true as they did a great job hosting us for 2012!