One of Britain’s most unusual political parties has announced it is returning to the resort – prompting fresh concerns that Blackpool can no longer attract top party conferences.
Political leaders have long appealed for the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats to bring general meetings back to Blackpool.
I think towns these days need to brand themselves as conference centres specifically and Blackpool does certainly not have that branding.Paul Maynard
But next month a very different group is to return – The Official Monster Raving Loony Party.
Its members, who aim to mock British politics, will meet at Uncle Tom’s Cabin in Queen’s Promenade, North Shore, from September 25 to 26 for its 31st party conference.
The Conservatives last visited the resort in 2007, while Labour and the Liberal Democrats have not been back since then .
Now next month’s event has sparked calls from political leaders for a fresh push on attracting major parties, rather than just fringe groups like the Official Monster Raving Loony Party.
The Official Monster Raving Loony Party’s leader, Alan ‘Howling Laud’ Hope, said he hoped to “lead the way” for politicians to return.
He added: “We have lots of party members in Blackpool. We have had other visits in the 80s and 90s and expect about 1,000 people will be there.
“We know Blackpool is very, very famous for hosting conferences but has lost out of late. We thought ‘poor old Blackpool’ and thought we would go back and help out.
“Perhaps we can show people the way. We like to think we are ahead of our time.”
The party conference season takes place between September and October each year.
The events traditionally took place in seaside towns, including Blackpool, Brighton and Bournemouth, but are increasingly taking place in major cities such as Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham.
It is 13 years since Labour brought its main annual conference to Blackpool, with the Conservative party last visiting the resort in 2007.
A lack of a new, purpose-built conference venue and large-scale hotel accommodation near the Winter Gardens is blamed, with it estimated Blackpool loses between £15m to £20m a year by not hosting an annual conference.
Earlier this month the resort suffered a blow when it was revealed electrification of the railway line between Blackpool and Preston would be delayed, potentially pushing back the introduction of six new services a day to the capital.
Paul Maynard, Blackpool North MP, said Blackpool needs to show it has the capabilities to host such events before they could return.
He added: “I think towns these days need to brand themselves as conference centres specifically and Blackpool does certainly not have that branding.
“Places like Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham have dedicated, modern, purpose-built conference centres, which surpass what Blackpool is now able to offer.
“It remains really important not on the hotel provision so much as conference provision to get back a wide range of conferences, not just political parties. I do not think a political party will lead the way back - it has to be small, professional organisations.
“That is what will help put us back on the map. When the council made changes to Marketing Blackpool and brought it in house, it lost focus on the conference-based aspect of things.
“I do not mean the attracting thousands of people on one-off events, it also means the smaller events - that’s the bread and butter of a conference centre.
“Every party member in the country has very fond memories of Blackpool. MPs love coming to Blackpool - they would love to come back.”
Speaking in 2013 Gordon Marsden, Blackpool South MP, said a conference venue is key for the resort to bring major parties back to Blackpool.
He said: “The challenge for Blackpool relates to the unresolved quest for a new conference centre which is what the casino bid was based on. All the main parties go to new centres which can only be built alongside other income generators and this is what the casino would have brought.”
And Coun Tony Williams, leader of Blackpool’s Conservative party, added: “Every credit to the Official Monster Raving Loony Party for choosing Blackpool.
“Every credit if they are doing it to try and get parties back. I would love my own party to come back. Prime Minister David Cameron loves Blackpool and on his desk has a picture of him and his wife walking down North Pier.
“Every party seems to be shunning Blackpool. We get criticism for some of our buildings but the Winter Gardens is getting there. We offer the best hospitality. Perhaps not enough investment has been put into it all. The most important thing is we need a purpose built conference centre.”
The Official Monster Raving Loony Party was established in 1983 by the musician David Sutch, better known as ‘Screaming Lord Sutch, 3rd Earl of Harrow’. It is notable for its bizarre policies and unusual party manifesto.
In this year’s General Election, the party’s policies included fitting air bags to the Stock Exchange, ready for the next crash, painting half of all grey squirrels red to increase the red squirrel population, clearing the national debt using the party’s credit card and pensioners to qualify for an ice lolly allowance if temperatures go above 70 degrees.
2015 – Manchester
2016 – Birmingham
2017 - TBC
2018 - Birmingham
2015 – Brighton
2016 – Liverpool
2017 – TBC
2018 – Liverpool
2015 - Bournemouth
2016 - Brighton
2017 - TBC