There are two contradictory ideas that do the rounds at this time every year. The first is that politicians must do more to look and sound more like "ordinary" people. The second that party conferences are pointless and should - therefore - be cancelled.
Let's take the first proposition. It's true that political parties attract a particular kind of person. Members of a political party make up only 1% of the population. Some of us are geeky. Some have obsessions with arcane issues like the party rule book or deeply fought arguments about voter ID methods.
But actually, most of us spend most of our time behaving just like everybody else. We care for our families, we work hard, we enjoy our leisure time and make the most of it.
Which is where party conferences come in.
Yes, of course they are pointless in terms of making and debating policy. You can't debate policy properly in a hall with 1,000 people. Those who obsess with restoring democracy to their conferences would do much better to think about better, more innovative ways to restore democracy to their parties. This spring, even the Lib Dems − previously so exulted in their supposed democracy − proved what a sham conference based democracy is. Make party democracy a year round, interactive, local and national process. Giving all party members the opportunity to get involved in ways that suit them best is a far more achievable, noble and practical aim.
But this doesn't make party conferences pointless; they have a point because they're fun.
It seems almost taboo to say that these days. Fun itself is taboo in serious times, never mind saying that what is basically a sci-fi convention for differently dressed geeks (it could be that people come dressed as their favourite politician, but as this would involve the dull wearing of a dull suit, it's hard to tell) is a thoroughly enjoyable experience for most participants.
By the way, sci-fi conventions are enormous fun too. And despite the tradition of grumbling about them, so too are work conferences. We get together with like minded folk and spend the day talking about our work and our evenings drinking and dancing the night away. It's a break from the norm, a getaway. It stimulates us for the year ahead, reinvigorates our friendships and gives us a vital chance to cut loose. In this way, party conferences reflect the experiences of people in other professions and with other interests.
There has sprung up a consensus that not only do politics and fun not mix, but that they shouldn't mix. That having fun during politics is disrespectful to those we serve; that being political during fun is disrespectful to the fun!
Last night was a perfect case in point. The Paralympics opening ceremony was marvellous. It was a gorgeous, giant, perfect spectacle. Introduced as a celebration of diversity, it was everything Aiden Burley hated last time in glorious multicultural technicolor. Some of our more po-faced politicos thought it somehow disrespectful to the paralympians to have fun with this very fact. I'm sorry, but in the words of Beverly Knight "I am who I am" and celebrate that I will. The ceremony itself was wilfully political. It celebrated diversity from the first spoken line to the last. Anyone who didn't think the incredible rendition of Ian Dury's Spasticus Autisticus wasn't political is pushing wilful blindness too far.
Times are serious and many people are suffering as a result. There are real and enormous challenges for politicians to face up to. This does not and must not mean that we lose our human side. We must maintain compassion, we must maintain anger and passion, but we must also be human and laugh. Not (just) dutifully at the painfully scripted jokes we’ll hear from the conference floor (personally, I am particularly looking forward to Sarah Teather, but all the time. We must dance and sing and find our own ways to enjoy ourselves. Because when people say politicians are all the same and aren’t like ‘us’ part of what is missing is a sense of joie de vivre.
Let’s show the punters that part of what we do, part of what makes us all the same is a need and willingness to enjoy ourselves.