Aside from the party political point-scoring, there have been two issues which, more than any other at this week’s Tory Party Conference, have provoked comment and divided opinion.

The first was whether or not a government minister – Brooks Newmark – ‘sexting’ intimate pictures of himself to a fake intern was a resigning matter – to which the answer is yes.

And the second is whether or not Deirdre Kelly, White Dee of Benefits Street fame, was a fitting guest for a fringe debate on welfare reform.

Generally there is some unease among politicians and professionals at either celebrities or those in the public eye getting to dictate policy on an issue.

In recent years we have seen reformed drug addicts like Russell Brand become sought-after authorities on drug policy, celebrities derided in the press become advocates for press regulation and Queen’s Brian May become the nation’s greatest defender of badgers.

At a previous party conference, author Sir Terry Pratchett, who is afflicted by Alzheimer’s disease, proved an eloquent advocate for assisted death.

Those who deride such celebrity politics ignore the fact that behind the scenes there are all sorts of lobbying at work, such as bookmakers advising on gambling regulation, accountants helping to draw up tax legislation and even unions demanding more rights for members. The only difference is they do not have the media pull of a household name.

And so this week we saw Deirdre Kelly, after her Celebrity Big Brother experience, repositioned as the poster-girl for the welfare and benefits community.

Her fame was enough to draw a large crowd – and media – to an average meeting room at Broad Street’s Novotel.

Newsnight host Allegra Stratton, chairing the event on behalf of the Policy Exchange think tank, joked that Dee was as big a Tory conference draw as Boris Johnson.

Some may have been expecting a performance normally seen on The Jeremy Kyle Show, with shouting and swearing and hoped to have views of people on benefits as undeserving of sympathy reinforced.

Certainly one audience member used the loaded phrase “you people”, before describing the unemployed in his area drinking and smoking their benefits at pubs from 8am in the morning.

He will no doubt be made to look like the epitome of the “nasty party” Tory when Dee’s reality TV show airs.

And Deirdre challenged this and every assumption and deflected every attack.

“I don’t know anyone in the pub at 8am” she countered, adding that there are no typical people on benefits.

If there are a million claiming, she argued, there are a million stories and as many different underlying reasons – mental illness, redundancy, poor education, chaotic family life and so on.

Asked if she considered herself “ordinary”, she said she did, but there was also recognition that her life in recent months had been rather extraordinary.

And asked which party leader she thinks speaks for her, the answer was very direct: “I can speak for myself”.

Some were surprised that she endorsed the new welfare proposals to give benefits in the form of pre-payment cards to stop people buying cigarettes and alcohol as being worth a try, and thought UKIP was at the moment more appealing that the other three parties.

However, she also added that the “bitchiness” in Westminster politics was a bit of a turn-off.

And, perhaps offering some hope to those hard-pressed local councillors everywhere, she said that she had a lot of time for her own local Labour councillor in Birmingham, who went unnamed, because she was engaged with and a presence in the local community.

While no one is suggesting that Kelly or celebrities should dictate policy, the attention they can bring to an issue makes the contribution worthwhile.


Birmingham’s Labour leader Sir Albert Bore has been a regular, if unlikely, figure on the Conservative Party Fringe this year, banging the drum for more powers, funding and freedom for the City Council and Greater Birmingham.

He has been busy lobbying ministers and discussing the future shape of local government with the likes of Eric Pickles and Greg Clark.

A series of fringe events were graced with his presence. At one, Tory transport minister Robert Goodwell even uttered: “I agree with Albert.”

But while Sir Albert may have been granted access to corridors of power this week, the Bore household was still represented on the other side of the barricade with the comrades.

Mrs Bore, otherwise known as Coun Victoria Quinn, was spotted in Centenary Square protesting over the huge debt repayments the council has been saddled with as a result of loans to cover the cost of the Library of Birmingham.