Exempt envoys from ‘excessive’ party conference fees

Ambassadors have called on political party conference organisers to exempt heads of mission from paying “eye-watering” fees to attend their autumn conferences, an Embassy survey of heads of missions has revealed.

Diplomats registering after the deadline on Friday 19 September will have to pay £1000 to attend the Tory Party Conference.

More than half of the respondents (55 per cent) felt heads of mission should be exempted from the fee, while the remainder thought diplomats should be offered a discount.

While most missions begrudgingly pay (despite the “heartburn and financial pain” said one Ambassador), two-thirds of envoys said the high fees made them think twice about attending.

A European ambassador told Embassy he was staying away because his embassy’s budget cannot be used to pay for party conferences, meaning he would have to pay out of his own pocket. “I would reconsider if the fee was considerably lower (or cancelled),” he said.

Diplomats from Latin America, Southeast Asia and Africa said they had been put off attending the all-important pre-election meetings because of the steep prices.

Diplomats accused the parties of using conferences as “a nice way to make money” while neglecting the importance of networking with the diplomatic community.

But diplomats attending the Labour Party Conference will get special treatment for the £825 fee they will be paying if they book now. This will include a welcome meeting with the Labour Party General Secretary and Policy Director; a Heads of Mission lunch; Q&A with Shadow Secretaries of State for International Development, Foreign Affairs and Defence; and an International Reception which usually features a speech by the party leader. There is also an International Lounge for diplomats with complimentary tea and coffee where diplomats can collect information on conference, speak to party staff and other international visitors.

There are also reserved seats for Ambassadors and High Commissioners during the leader’s speech and other senior diplomats.

International officers of the main political parties told Embassy the fees were due to costs incurred doing security checks. However, this does not explain why diplomats already on the system faced high fees.

When asked if diplomats could be exempted or get a discount, party officials refused, but advised diplomats to register early when fees are around £300. They also appealed to missions to keep their contacts up to date to receive registration information in time.

This raises a sore point among envoys as tickets are not transferable. So if an ambassador is recalled, their successor has to reapply, usually at a higher fee and with no refund.

Labour has agreed to allow ticket transfers between diplomats for an administration fee of £25. The Tories will not allow transfers but envoys can make an appeal to the accreditation office in exceptional circumstances.

To query registrations for the Conservative Party Conference, email accreditation@fingerprintevents.com. For Labour Party conference info, contact Jo Blackman on jo_blackman@labour.org.uk