When you get on a train on a Sunday and find First Class is more full than the cheap seats, it can only mean one thing: a political party conference is starting. The Tories starts tomorrow – but still, folk travel up today. Why a Monday start? And why Manchester? The seaside resorts were chosen when party conferences were rallies of the grassroot members, and venues were chosen for their supply of cheap (usually B&B) accommodation. Now, most people who attend are the new breed of political professionals who are not paying their own hotel bills. Lobbyists, quangocrats, NGO advisers, journalists, the whole lot. And they come to meet each other, not really watch what’s going on. Newspaper editors bring their deputies and most senior aides to spend the week in an exhaustive line-up of coffees, breakfasts, lunches etc with politicians. The fringe events are more of an attraction than the stadium speeches – each of these finge events has a sponsor. This is the aspect that I love. It is an Edinburgh Festival for politics addicts. You can pick up a programme, see a huge array of great debates and panels and spend your day flitting between them. But I do this for work reasons. There are fewer and fewer grassroot activists who do it for love. The reason for starting conference in a weekend was to let those activists get back to work. For the political pros now stuffing the conferences, this is work - don’t blame the Tories for starting on a Monday in Manchester – but it is a sign of the steady professionalisation of politics. And I don’t mean that in a good way.