Better late than never. I promised I would post about Liberal Democrat Spring Conference last Monday, but it’s only now that I’ve got around to posting anything. I know it will have been a difficult week for the one reader of this blog who was looking forward to it, but at least you’ve had the Liberal Youth election fight to entertain you instead.
This was a slightly odd conference for me. I am still working for Sheffield Hallam Liberal Democrats, but spent much of conference with ALDC helping on their stand, seeing a bit more of their conference training and joining their briefing on the latest changes and planned changes to election law (things change all the time now, and a lot of these changes are last minute so it’s hardly surprising that people don’t keep on top of them).
There were however two downsides to this conference that I knew about as soon as I had arrived. The week prior to conference was, as is often the case, a tiring week with some long working hours which mean that I was already tired when I arrived. That isn’t so good when you know you will end up staying up late chatting to people in the bar (at least with a week-long conference you can go to bed early the first night and still have lots of social time). But also I ended up having to stay in a bed and breakfast in Knaresborough. It was a very nice B&B (if you’re in the town I recommend the Ebor Mount on York Place) but I just like to be near the conference centre so I can drop back in during the day, change clothes and not lug all my belongings around all the time.
The highlight of the weekend for me was meeting Howard Dean on Saturday morning. As well as his big speech he also met some members of the Campaigns Department and ALDC to give us his take on the Liberal Democrats and our future (which reminds me, Karin Robinson has done a really good article on Lib Dem Voice that gives her take as a non party member on where the party is going well and where it could do better). Both Howard and Karin seemed to have a similar view that the party isn’t living up to its potential and had a number of interesting thoughts on how to get there. Whilst much of what they have to say I would agree with, there are still things that I would dispute or aren’t perhaps as simple as they might want. American politics is also very different from British politics and so makes it harder for the Liberal Democrats to make the breakthrough we want, but just by saying that I am perhaps also endorsing a very clear message from them that our biggest issue is a lack of ambition. Another post worth reading is Karin’s reponse to Mark Pack’s discussion on where Barack Obama went wrong.
Another highlight of conference for me was the usual – catching up with friends that I don’t see anywhere near often enough. One particular mention should go to James a friend from Southampton who I recruited to the party about five years ago. James was a friend of one of my non-Lib Dem friends and one night he asked me where I worked. Now normally telling people my job produces either an alcohol-fuelled rant about the evils of politicians (despite the fact they are talking to one), a long discussion about their own personal political hobby horse or alternatively a sudden glazed look, a comment about how dull politics is and never speaking to me again. In contrast James instead told me that he’d always been a Lib Dem and wanted to know how he could join in. Since then James has become a keen party activist, leaflet deliverer, canvasser, council candidate and now a conference attendee.
He is someone who clearly really cares about people and the world generally and so I hope that at some point soon I will see him elected as a councillor – which would be a great result from one chance conversation in a pub. This of course partly depends on Lib Dem fortunes in Southampton turning round, (last May wasn’t exactly the best election the party has ever had in the city), but from my knowledge of the place Southampton should hold huge potential for us, the last General Election results were very good and I suppose because I really like the place it’s also a crossing of fingers hope that it will get better.
I was particularly pleased by Nick Clegg’s leader’s speech on the Sunday. Whilst it didn’t have any specific lines that really stood out that will be remembered forever, the reason it was good was the fact that it showed Nick as authoritative, principled and, dare I say it, statesmanlike. It is also the first time in many years that I have heard people cheer a part of a leader’s speech. This was the point at which Nick talked about banks that take risks shouldn’t be bailed out in the future, and we should only support the careful banks. I know taking shots at bankers at the moment is a good way of getting applause, but I thought it was a very thoughtful and well considered speech, with only a few bits that could be accused of cheap shots.
Finally, I also managed to get through conference unscathed and, unlike the last Harrogate conference I attended, I didn’t fall down and break my arm.