Listening to a speech at the Conservative party conference this week, I found myself sitting behind Simon Hoggart, the Guardian's political sketchwriter. He appeared for the most part to be quite profoundly asleep, oblivious to the parade of senior politicians at the front of the hall, resting his head on the wall and sitting back with a beatific smile playing on his lips. But very occasionally, and for no apparent external reason, his eyes would suddenly pop open and there would be furious scribbling on his note pad, before he sunk back into somnolence once more.
I saw the next day that most of his piece had focused on the delights of the market place area in the conference hall, where delegates can acquire all sorts of goodies - from a Christmas tree bauble autographed by Ken Clarke (I joke not) through "Gordon Brown porkie pies" to a humanist association frisbee.
Perhaps Simon's torpor reflected the fact that it is beyond the set piece platform speeches and the melee of the exhibition hall, the fringe is where the detailed debates take place. And much of the talk on the fringe, as at other conferences, is of the dire state of post-financial crash national finances, and the options for remedial action.
With cuts the dominant theme, the fact that the shadow international development minister, Andrew Mitchell, reiterated the Conservative party commitment to meeting aid promises (to raise aid to 0.7% of GDP) was great to hear. It is one of only two areas of spending that the party leader, David Cameron, has pledged to protect. But it isn't an unqualified promise. The message is also clear that Conservative policy if elected would also be to challenge the development sector to demonstrate clearly that government funded aid is delivering clear results.
But the platform speeches too repayed careful attention. Greg Clark, the shadow secretary of state for Energy and Climate Change, said something particularly important in his keynote address. He commented that funding must be made available to help poor countries adapt to climate change - and that this must be in addition to what is already needed to help them out of poverty.
This was no throwaway line, but had clearly been well considered. The amount of money required to help poorer countries adapt to climate change is huge, equivalent to multiplying the current overseas development budget many times over. It is also vital. If it is not forthcoming, we risk seeing all the gains of recent years in improved health, education, and reduced poverty across the world, being thrown into reverse.
But at this time of financial crisis, this kind of policy commitment is both challenging, and welcome. I'm keen to hear more from the Conservatives about their policy in this area, many details are still not clear - and the devil is always in the detail, to turn platform promises into firm policy. Later in the conference I heard a High Commissioner from a developing country be forthright at a fringe meeting on the need for legally binding commitments to help poor countries with climate change. He was passionate, referring to the experience of seeing industrialised countries renege on aid promises made at the Gleneagles G8 summit in 2005.
Yes, the implications of Greg Clark's speech certainly woke me up. Not sure about Simon Hoggart though.
Advocacy Manager, Progressio