‘Complete shambles’ as Conservative conference hit by tech glitches

Another “Omnishambles” – No end in sight, they just keep piling up! – Owl

Francis Elliott, Political Editor www.thetimes.co.uk 

Business leaders awaiting a virtual Q&A with the prime minister and the chancellor were left staring at a buffering screen for almost an hour as technical glitches dogged the Conservatives’ “virtual conference”.

Some of the UK’s most senior industry figures were among those expecting to take part in an exclusive online question-and-answer session yesterday morning with Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak.

The session, available to those businesses who paid for accreditation to the online conference, was delayed by at least 50 minutes.

The fact that it coincided with the government’s embarrassment over the data mishap that has delayed the tracing of tens of thousands of people possibly infected with Covid-19 did not go unremarked.

“The system has crashed meaning that various fee-paying business leader guests have spent the last 50 minutes looking at a screen with the Conservative logo and an uploading circle,” complained one industry leader. “It’s not a great advert for a government battling off allegations of technical incompetence in other areas.”

When the session did start it was repeatedly interrupted because of a “dreadful feed”, a guest said. Ministers’ “break-out” sessions yesterday afternoon were similarly bedevilled by technical glitches. “It’s been a complete shambles to be honest,” one disgruntled figure said.

Complaints over accreditation failures that left many frozen out of the first day of the conference have fuelled discontent. Although some have applauded a brave attempt to replicate the annual gathering, others say it has made painfully obvious the vacuity of much of the content of a conference which has a main purpose of raising cash from paying attendees and sponsors.

Cabinet ministers privately admit that participation in the event has been an afterthought and that planning has not been as meticulous as in previous years. The level of media coverage has disappointed Conservative Campaign Headquarters.

Yesterday’s buffering screens followed a notorious Zoom call last month with the prime minister and Tory MPs. Thanks to a technical failure Mr Johnson dropped off the call as he was seeking to defend his decision to break international law to change the Brexit deal.

MPs were unmuted and Michael Fabricant started singing Rule, Britannia! to fill the time. Colleagues did not join in.

The arch-Brexiteer Steve Baker quipped to the group that he could take over the call and chair it, to which Theresa May joined in the joke and said “no”.

The failures will sting at CCHQ which prides itself in being better at digital campaigning than Labour and the other parties. It was an early pioneer of social media advertising and spent considerable sums during last December’s elections on its digital content. One of Mr Johnson’s doorstep offers was better internet connectivity.