Today I attended the launch of a policy document by the Conservative Party shadow Justice Minister Dominic Grieve QC. The topic was the surveillance society and government databases and as it looks a fair bet that we might see a change of Government in 2010 I thought I had better accept the invitiation and hear what the thinking is from opposition quarters.
The content of the paper and discussion is covered elsewhere (here and here for example) so I won't bother repeating it. Suffice to say that despite not being of a Conservative persuasion myself, I was a bit surprised to find that I agreed with pretty much everything in the paper and I was impressed with the way Dominic Grieve handled himself during the lengthy Q&A session.
But having never been to a real live "launch" of a political policy document before I was keen to find out what it was like. So I put on what I thought looked like a Tory sort of suit and set off to the invitation only event held at a Microsoft office in London.
The event was smaller than I thought it would be. There were about 40 people present and I suspect at least 10 of them were party faithful. Judging by the number of badges on the reception table when I arrived, I think the majority of guests were present (perhaps 10 or so missing) so it seems that these launch events are not designed to be the big "show and tell" affairs that I had assumed.
Speaking of party faithful, I do like watching young politicians on the make. They tend to be caricatures of whatever party they belong to. I slipped in and sat on the back row just as the event was getting going and a young lad in his twenties spotted me, glided across the carpet and pressed a copy of the report into my hand. I say young lad and I think he was a young lad but he somehow managed to look as if he was comfortably into his fifties. He looked as if he had been born in his fifties. This may be the look you go for if you are an aspiring Conservative. I must find out what the Labour lads try to look like these days. I know what your typical libdem aspires to.
After a brief introduction by someone important but instantly forgettable, Dominic Grieve stood up and made a few remarks about his document. Then we got down to the meat of the event - the Q&A. Dominic sat between two other folk, a mate of mine and all-round good egg called Jerry Fishenden and Eleanor Laing MP, Shadow Minister of Justice. I must say, I was slightly taken aback to see Jerry up there, not because he shouldn't have been but I just hand't expected it and it's always a surprise when you see someone you know unexpectely out of context, being all grown up and speaking in deep, well modulated, authoritative tones. Jerry was, I believe, the techno-totty (on account of knowing what he is talking about when it comes to technology) and Eleanor's role was to agree with Dominic and repeat what he said but in a soft reassuring Scottish brogue.
Despite it being a small and largely friendly group (why would you invite your critics to your own launch party, after all?) the questioning went on for a good hour and was very persistant. This was the bit where I was reminded why I will not make a good politician. Most of the questions were pretty good as the audience knew its stuff, but some were self-serving drivel and it would have been quicker if the questioner had just stood up, waved their arms in the air and said "Yoo Hoo Look at me. I'm here!". That's when I would have said "yes, yes, yes, we've all seen you, you ARE big and you ARE clever, now sit down", Dominic however looked thoughtful and came up with half-decent answers that gave the impression that he gave a damn about the questioner. Impressive.
Probably the most impressive was a question that the chap next to me asked about ISO standards verse kite marks. I assumed that Dominic would immediately pass the question over to Jerry, who might have stood a chance of knowing what the question was about. Indeed, I thought I caught Jerrry shifting uneasily in his chair. But to my surprise Dominic responded to the question himself and actually answered it pretty well.
As I didn't understand the protocol for asking questions (such as did your question need to make sense or not) and because my personality type makes it illegal for me to speak unless spoken to in strange public settings, I didn't get around to asking a question. But almost everyone else did and the session had to be cut short and brought to an end.
Job done, the group prepared to retire for drinks, nibbles and networking in Microsoft's plush offices (Microsoft have been very smart boys, getting so close to the opposition, no other tech companies in sight at this stage). Networking is something the young party boys really know how to do and I could see them stretching and limbering up for a good session of trusting about, grasping hands insincerely and looking just past your left shoulder as they speak to you just in case someone slightly more important hoves into view. I should really have stayed and sprayed business cards around, but there is only so much I can take. I made my excuses (to myself, under my breadth) and fled.