Conference brings full house to Liverpool

by Richard Clein

A story on ITV news this week caught the eye: “Jeremy Corbyn joins Bongo’s Bingo in Liverpool with an election promise for the crowd”. It’s a headline more akin to the 1980s when the city’s Militant council was battling with the Conservative government of the time and comedy magician Ali Bongo was entertaining the masses! In fact, when Jeremy Corbyn was first elected in 1983 the people who created Bongo’s Bingo, a worldwide phenomenon which started in Liverpool’s trendy Baltic District, weren’t even born let alone selling out venues across the world.

Fast forward 30 years and the Labour Party is in the city for the third time since losing power in 2010. But what impact does holding a conference in urban Britain have on a city’s brand and reputation? There were more people around (easily identified by the lanyards!), hotel rooms were nigh impossible to find, and the bars and restaurants enjoyed a boost with pints of real ale in vogue. We got in on this back in 2016 when our client, the Republic of Liverpool Beer Company, was asking delegates to choose between “Corbyn’s Cask” and “Citizen Smith IPA” as the Labour leadership contest came to a climax. If a week is a long time in politics, two years seems a lifetime. Whatever happened to Owen Smith?

This week’s Labour party conference certainly did put Liverpool on the front pages and in the headlines, with the BBC highlighting ‘Liverpool’ ahead of ‘Labour Party’ as the more significant element of the story every night on the main evening news.

People were once again talking positively (mostly) about the city. My final year dissertation in 1995 showed then how tourism had a positive impact on the city’s image as people’s perceptions changed once they’d visited and seen what was on offer… a point proven by journalists, delegates and parliamentarians who actively took to social media to share their selfies and first-hand views of “this wonderful city”. They may have struggled 23 years’ ago as Liverpool didn’t even have enough hotels, never mind a venue to support a party conference and the razzmatazz that goes with it.

The Kings Dock was derelict and Liverpool ONE was but a pipe dream, though there were still the Three Graces, The Albert Dock, St Georges’ Hall and the cathedrals, all iconic symbols of the city’s past. As well as the visible changes to the skyline, the challenge has also been to bring those landmark buildings to life with the city council moving its core staff into the Cunard (one of the Three Graces) and the not so successful British Music Experience (BME) into the same building.

But the intent is there and plans are now afoot to unlock the city’s most famous icon, The Royal Liver Building, following its purchase by Farhad Moshiri. The Everton owner has moved the Club’s staff into the Royal Liver Building, with a view of the Bramley Moore Dock which is the proposed site of Everton’s new stadium. This week, we revealed more details about a new world-class attraction Royal Liver Building 360, on behalf of our client Heritage Great Britain, with it already being touted as becoming “one of the UK’s top 10 tourist attractions”. No pressure there then!

When the next party conference comes calling, the rooftop of the Royal Liver Building will at the very least provide a refuge for delegates wanting a clear head after a late night in the conference bar and could be the perfect location for the country’s leading decision makers to engage in some real “blue sky thinking”.