Prime Minister David Cameron has recorded a personal message to the Conservative Party faithful, urging them to attend the annual conference in Birmingham – following fears that the event could be a flop.
In a video available on YouTube and on the official Conservative website, Mr Cameron promises party members that this year’s conference - at the Birmingham International Convention Centre from October 7-10 - will provide them with opportunities to vent their frustrations with senior party figures in person, and in private without the media present.
It follows reports that Tories are staying away from the high-profile event, leading to concern that there could be empty seats when the party leader delivers his keynote speech.
Issues which have angered activists include:
• The party’s failure to win a clear victory in the 2010 general election, leading to coalition with the Liberal Democrats
• Mr Cameron’s determination to legalise same-sex marriage despite the opposition of some MPs and party members
• The growing cost of attending party conferences, although the party has tried to counter this by offering discounts this year for activists who book early.
In the film, Mr Cameron says there will be less emphasis on high-profile televised speeches and more “closed” events for members only, where they can meet senior figures including Sayeeda Warsi, the party chair, and Oliver Letwin, who is in charge of drawing up the next election manifesto.
He promises: “A private and frank exchange of views. The sessions will be intimate, informative and interactive.
“Your chance to hear about our plans to win with a Conservative majority in 2015, and most importantly, your chance to be heard.”
Ms Warsi is also trying to push up the number of attendees, and has been telephoning the chairman of Conservative constituency associations to ensure they are aware that every party member is now entitled to attend conference.
Last time the Conservatives came to Birmingham for their annual conference in 2010, more than 13,000 activists took part.
Last week Emma Pidding, the chairman of the party’s National Convention, which represents grassroots members, warned that plans to legalise same-sex marriage were upsetting supporters.
Opponents of the policy include Shropshire MP Mark Pritchard (Con The Wrekin) who warned: “It may end up damaging our Conservative brand with our natural supporters and voters in the country, and most importantly our grassroots who support us financially and deliver leaflets day-in day-out up and down the country.”
There have also been complaints about the growing cost of attending conferences.
Last year, when the Conservatives were in Manchester, one Conservative website, aimed at party members, estimated that the cost to delegates had been £722 each.
The party has attempted to reduce costs this year by promoting discount travel fares offered by National Express and Chiltern Railways.
A Conservative spokesman said: “Applications to attend conference so far are in line with previous years.”