"Party conference season is upon us again. The annual jamborees attract thousands of delegates and activists to hear the keynote speeches, and take part in the hundreds of fringe events away from the main arena.
Each party is at an important stage right now and what happens at conference this year could have a significance well beyond the convention centre.
The Lib Dems are re-building. The Greens are looking for a breakthrough. UKIP have to figure out what role they have in a post-referendum world.
Perhaps most notable this year is Labour, whose Liverpool conference is closing just as the Post hits the news-stands today. They will have heard from a Leader with a refreshed mandate – one who appeals strongly to his party's membership, but less so to his parliamentary team.
Next week I will be with my Conservative colleagues in Birmingham. The focus will be on the new era we now have under a new PM, and the challenges and opportunities ahead as we manage the UK’s exit from the European Union.
Parties can be something of a paradox. Far from being groups of people who always agree with each other, they can accommodate a wide range of views, and debate on the party conference fringe can be lively indeed.
But what unites a party must be much stronger than what divides it. There will be shared core values and purpose, which enable a party to present a coherent programme to the electorate, accepting the inevitable trade-offs and compromises.
No policy programme could perfectly reflect every preference of any one individual in the party, or indeed the electorate. But it must appeal sufficiently for a majority of people to get behind it. Then you can have a functioning and stable government.
Our parliamentary system also needs balance. A strong and effective government needs a good opposition. Despite the term, it can’t just be about opposing: it should be a realistic alternative government.
And that is why this week’s Labour party conference is important to everyone, Labour supporter or otherwise.
Labour has seen a big increase in its membership. Locally, we’ve seen an increase in Conservative membership too, since Theresa May became PM.
Whichever party people feel closest to, I hope more and more people will join it. Because the more people are involved, the stronger our democracy is.
Of course joining a party isn't the only way to be involved in politics. Single issue groups have a really important role to play and new media has enabled many more people to express and exchange views in new ways. That is a good thing and it will grow and grow.
But it is no substitute for broad membership of and involvement in parties, which are at the heart of our democracy."
Article written by Damian Hinds and published in the Petersfield Post, 28th September 2016