liberal democrats

The post where I try to explain Farron’s religious dilemma, by comparing it to how I became a Liberal Democrat

Some years ago I attended a memorial service for a friend of mine. At it, one of the people giving a eulogy said something along the lines of “As someone who goes through the same conflicting emotions, I know how hard it was for him trying to reconcile his sexuality with his Christianity.” It was a very emotional part of the event, and it stuck with me and I still remember it many years later. Not only because the person giving the eulogy had at that time spoken little about his own sexuality, but also because many of those who knew the person for whom the memorial service was being held probably didn’t know he was a Christian. But this must be something that affects thousands of people in this country. It is also a conflict that will affect many more people who whilst not gay, have a strong Christian identity and have strong liberal convictions.

I deliberated a while before writing this post, as adding yet another post to the discussion about what Tim Farron’s attitudes are or are not on both religion and the morality of homosexuality or abortion, didn’t necessarily feel helpful. But when the quote above came to mind again, it felt like something I wanted to get off my chest. As someone who doesn’t believe in any religion and was brought up in a resolutely atheist household, wading in to any discussion on religion is also perhaps not helpful.  However that’s what I am about to do.

I imagine being a Christian has many parallels with how people such as myself became Liberal Democrats. We hadn’t initially thought about why we were, we just sort of knew deep down that it felt right. Later on as you read more about it, you get to know more people involved and you start to deliberate either with others or internally some of the issues that arise, you realise that your gut instinct was right, and yes you are a Liberal Democrat. But like being a Liberal Democrat you also find some of the things that are said or that are written don’t tally with quite how you feel about the world. Largely they aren’t fundamental issues, but they are places where if pressed you find it hard to reconcile your gut instinct view with the accepted view of what being a Liberal Democrat is about. In the end you have to accept that no one will ever agree on what is ideologically pure and even if they could then everyone’s beliefs are always a bit of a compromise as you have also been heavily influenced by other life experiences, the opinions of others or you simply just take a different view from the accepted wisdom of other Lib Dems.

I once wrote a comment on a blog where I disagreed with the party’s views on how education was structured. One person came back and asked me “why on earth therefore was I a liberal” because of my views on that one specific subject. It was, and is, entirely unfair to question someone’s whole political outlook based on their views on one issue, or even one part of an issue. Just as I have tended towards a more traditional socialist structure on the organisation of education, I have also over the years not agreed with votes at 16 (these days I tend more towards ambivalence) and I have also not felt entirely comfortable with allowing gay couples to adopt (although I’ve accepted that it’s better than the alternatives). These are all issues about which many Liberal Democrats feel passionate and they see as something that makes them identify as a Liberal Democrat. For me, they aren’t but I am a Liberal Democrat in nearly every other respect so why should a tiny handful of specific issues make me fundamentally not a Lib Dem.

Which brings me back to Tim Farron. Tim Farron has clearly supported same-sex marriage in parliament, and whilst there were parts of the specific act of parliament that he quibbled with, he has still on the whole supported it. He has also argued against changing the law on abortion. But that doesn’t stop him having some internal conflict about these issues based on two instinctive but at times conflicting beliefs that he holds. The words “at times” are also important here, as much of the time there won’t be conflict with the two and will actually reinforce each other. But at the end of the day, there are a number of issues, on which there is a conflict between what Christianity says and what the instincts of a liberal are, which makes it tough for those who are both. I won’t go in to here what is the truly Christian view on these or what exactly the Bible says, as I’ve realised how few Christians agree on that anyway. In the end Tim Farron has voted with a strongly liberal stance throughout his time as an MP.  If we knew that Tim Farron was a massive homophobe – which he absolutely clearly is not to the point where even just writing that sentence dismissing the idea still feels ludicrously unfair – then as Liberal Democrats we would question his views. But in reality he has a conflict between two powerful and at times contradictory, yet instinctive beliefs. He won’t be the only person to have that, and the reasons for his conflict on these specific issues are probably far more convincing that the doubts I have about the issues I mentioned earlier which can be summed up as “well it’s just how I feel”. Tim perhaps needs a better way of expressing this conflict that doesn’t resort to religious terminology (which does put off a large proportion of the country who aren’t religious), but instead looking at any conflicting instincts that we all have, which for the majority of apolitical people don’t involve their political stance, and arguing why his political instincts win out.

We all get different aspects of what we believe in from different parts of what goes to make us who we are. For some people it’s religion, for others it is family or friends, for others it is reading literature, and so on. It’s not what gets us there, it’s what our general attitude is at the end of it. And on that, I have no doubt about Tim Farron’s liberalism and it’s that liberalism that matters.

Preview of English Lib Dem Executive – 30th May 2015

This Saturday is the first English Lib Dems Executive meeting since the General and Local Elections.  For that reason the focus is partly about reviewing the election just gone but in particular looking at where we go from here (the Strategic Review), which is what will take up all of the second half of the meeting.

The first half of the meeting consists of the usual reports back from the officers of the English Party and the representatives to other party committees.  There’s nothing worse at a committee meeting than people who read out the report that we’ve all already had in writing, and this bit of the agenda is increasingly being focused on questions or detailed discussion on one bit of someone’s report.

Strategic review

The English Lib Dems agreed at its March meeting that after the General Election there would be a review to make proposals for the “future role of the English party and the English regional parties in the rebuilding and future development of the party, including the structure.”  This plan was agreed before the result was known, but the rebuilding process is more significant than most of us anticipated.  The idea is to prepare some initial questions and thoughts for the English Council meeting on 13th June, and this will then be worked up to become final proposals for the November English Council and English regional conferences to consider.  In between times the English Party will be consulting with members to get their views and ideas.

Those members who have been around a while will remember the Party Reform Commission (or Bones Report from c. 2008) and there’s a risk that it repeats the same job.  However, the impression I get is that there is an increasing willingness to look afresh at a lot of things and with the devastating General Election result there will be a need for more dramatic change.  There is a danger that the review will become fixated with structure and the clear desire of many people to scrap the English Party altogether, however it is certainly my view that if the party is to be a success it needs to look at what it wants to be and then design the structures appropriately to support that objective.  That may or may not mean keeping a similar structure to the one we have at present, but that isn’t where we should start. (more…)

Preview of English Lib Dem Executive – 24th Jan 2015

A belated report but it’s been a slightly manic week.  Tomorrow it’s time for the first English Liberal Democrats Executive (ECE) of 2015, and perhaps unsurprisingly with the general election around the corner there are few major new projects underway but instead it’s largely about updates on ongoing day to day stuff.  As with all party committees this doesn’t of course mean that the meeting will move rapidly through the agenda finishing early.  One thing that is both a positive and a negative with ECE is that it spends a lot of time discussing each issue, but also in its role as a collective voice for the English regional parties, other issues will always be raised by regional chairs that everyone will want to discuss.

Chair’s report

This meeting is also the first with its new chair Steve Jarvis at the head of the table.  One thing that has particularly pleased me from his first report is that he will be making full contact details for the members of ECE along with agendas and a summary of decisions available in the members’ area of the party website.  So no sooner do I start blogging each meeting then perhaps my reports will become superfluous.  Otherwise his report is largely about the committee’s work programme for the year, with the tasks before the election being about getting people elected in May and the second half about the inevitable post-election review which increasingly seems as though it will include a review of the party’s structure and governance. (more…)

Preview of English Lib Dem Executive – 13th Dec 2014

One commitment I made when I stood for election to the English Liberal Democrats Executive (ECE) was that I’d write on this blog about what was coming up at each meeting, and then do a post summarising what was discussed or decided after the event.  I was pleased to be elected back on to ECE for 2015 (I currently sit on it as Chair of Yorkshire and the Humber Lib Dems) and so here’s my first of these posts.  I warn people who have no interest in internal committees of political parties, especially those that deal with internal issues, that this will be very long and very dull and that is largely why I’ve inserted a ‘read more’ tag to the article!  I will endeavour to be much shorter in future, but as this is the first one I need to explain the background to more things.

This is the last meeting of ECE of 2014 and is taking place a few weeks later than usual to allow the newly elected regional chairs and directly-elected committee members to attend, along with the existing members from 2014.  If the meeting had taken place on the usual date the election results wouldn’t have been announced in time for that to be possible.  The benefit of this is to allow elections for those positions that are elected by the other members of the ECE to be held before the New Year and to take office alongside the new chair (Steve Jarvis) on 1st January.  The full set of positions to be elected are – treasurer, vice-chair, four members of the Finance and Administration Committee (EFAC), four members of the Regional Parties’ Committee (RPC), a rep to the International Relations Committee and the English Diversity Champion.

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Why I’m standing for the English Lib Dem Executive

The ballot papers will be arriving shortly for the English Party Elections, and as I’m standing for election to the English Liberal Democrat Executive Committee (ECE) I thought I should explain in a bit more detail why I’m standing. If you want to know what the ECE does then I’ve written a summary here.

Firstly, there are three particular things I want to do if I’m elected.

Supporting regional parties

I’ve spent the last year as Chair of Yorkshire and the Humber Liberal Democrats. The English Executive has been really useful as a place for swapping best practice and finding out what other people are doing so you don’t need to keep re-inventing the wheel. This is something that it has got a lot better at over the last few years, but there’s much more that could be done. Despite spending three years on my own regional executive it wasn’t until I became its chair that I fully appreciated the amount of time and the demands on resources that running a good regional party involves. I’d now like to use that experience and knowledge to get the English Party to do even more to help strengthen regional parties so they are better able to take on the different roles they have. Some people style the English Lib Dems as the “English Party of the Regions” and that is probably the most important role that it has.

Openness

As with most party committees, the English Executive has been poor at communicating what it does and why it is doing it. With the major issues its had to deal with over the last year or two, this has come in to focus even more, and has led to a lot of misunderstandings as well as some mistrust. If I’m elected to the English Executive I’ll use this blog to let people know what it is planning to discuss and what happens at its meetings. But I’m also clear that a party committee shouldn’t have to rely on a third party blog to communicate what it is doing, and so I will also press for it to be a lot more open using official party channels. Although there is inevitably some need for confidentiality and discretion, I’m firmly of the view that there is actually very little that is truly secret.

Not just about two meetings

Although the English Executive meets roughly every two months, the full English Council only gets together twice a year, and both of those meetings are in the second half of the year. Whilst I wouldn’t want to bring in yet more meetings, there’s a real need to keep members of English Council engaged throughout the rest of the year. This would allow us to stop using just the ‘usual suspects’ for any work that needs to be done, and it would allow us to address issues as they come up through the year rather than all the focus being on just two already busy meetings that end up full of reports. English Council is the way that members from all English regions come together to discuss the party, but you shouldn’t have to wait several months to be able to do that.

But when standing for a party committee, there’s always some personal reasons for standing on top of the key things you want to get done and here’s mine:

Whoever is elected as Chair of the English Party this year, (I’m not aware of there ever having previously been a four-way contest for it before), is going to be dealing with a real desire to shake things up and improve the party’s effectiveness. Many would say it’s about time too although there is also a lot that’s already good about it and that’s why I enjoy being a part of this committee. A key part of what is good about it is the people involved and the way that it is the only committee that I’ve been on that has full, frank and detailed discussions on a host of party issues without grandstanding and with members who are fully engaged in the party and what the committee itself is there to do. I’m very keen for the party to look at ways in which it can be more effective, (and I have no set view on how that should be done), but I’m also very clear that it isn’t just about changing structures. There’s three things that the English Party should do now to improve using the existing skills and enthusiasm that it has, and that’s why I’ve outlined them above and I will try and make them happen if I’m elected.

Finally, if you want to know more about me in general, then the About page on this blog should help.

You can also view a PDF of my A5 ‘official manifesto’ here.

A short guide to ECE

ECE as it’s abbreviated is variously known as the English Executive Committee or English Council Executive and the committee that has day to day responsibility for the work of the English Liberal Democrats. As a federal party everyone is a member of both a state party and the federal party, and so we also have executive committees for each of the three states – Scotland, Wales and England – and although the first two have quite extensive functions, the English Party has passed some of these up to the federal level.

The main responsibilities that the English Party has retained are parliamentary candidate selection and approval rules (for Westminster, Europe, PCCs and Directly-Elected Mayors), co-ordinating selections (although each region manages the process for its own seats), membership rules and systems, disciplinary rules, updating regional parties on how they and local parties are complying with PPERA rules, the basic principles and rules for constitutions for local and regional parties along with providing model constitutions, representing the English regions to the federal committees and providing communication between them, funding various initiatives such as the G8 grants scheme and the current membership incentive schemes, co-ordinating and promoting best practice between the English Regions and as the main way that the federal party communicates with regional parties as a group. It was once graphically described by a former English Party Chair as “plumbing, maintenance and sewage”, i.e. creating rules to make the party function, maintaining the systems they create and dealing with the fall out from when people break them or bend them.

ECE is made up of each of the eleven regional chairs as well as a Chair, Candidates’ Chair, representatives to federal committees and eleven directly-elected members who are all elected by members of English Council. There are 150 members of English Council who are elected as representatives of their region or Liberal Youth at their conferences. ECE meets roughly every two months, and English Council meets twice a year in June and November.

Why we must stand candidates for Police and Crime Commissioners

The debate within the Liberal Democrats on whether we should stand candidates for the Police and Crime Commissioners has been an interesting one.  Not just because the principle of standing candidates is not something that usually provokes debate (although obviously some areas struggle to find enough council candidates) but because the two sides of the argument are not easy to characterise.  There are people I would have thought were a dead cert in believing we should stand who are firmly against, and vice versa.  This topic has been debated informally internally for several weeks, but tonight it will be discussed by the party’s Federal Executive and so I decided it was time to put in my two penn’uth worth on why I believe we have to stand.

A DISTINCTIVE STANCE ON CRIME

For years the Liberal Democrats have been arguing a completely different approach to law and order from the other two major parties.  We’ve long campaigned for restorative justice (and been the people who’ve proved to the doubters that it can work in many of the councils we’ve run).  We’ve talked for years about how prison doesn’t work and is a very expensive and inefficient way of not really dealing with the problem of crime.  Whilst the Police and Crime Commissioners won’t have the powers to make some of the changes we would like to see in the criminal justice system these elections will see a much broader discussion on crime than just the things it can influence.  If we don’t stand candidates, who will argue that point of view?  Yes, Ken Clarke may be supporting many of the initiatives that we have long argued for, but do we really believe that the Conservatives who have long backed sending more and more people to prison and Labour who have an illiberal record of cutting civil liberties when in office, are going to create a wide debate on where policing goes in this country?  We need to stand to give people the opportunity to vote for the things that we believe in.  No one else will do that.  And if we don’t stand we’re saying that we have no opinion on this crucial debate.

IF WE DON’T STAND FOR ELECTION, THEN WHAT’S THE POINT IN US EXISTING?

Political parties are a likeminded group of people who stand for election to change the world.  OK, that’s a simplification, but Article One of the Liberal Democrat constitution says:

the objectives of the party shall be… to secure the election of Liberal Democrats as Members of Parliament, UK Members of the European Parliament and members of local and other elected public authorities.

Apart from the slightly nerdy constitutional point that the party would be breaching its own constitution by not standing for this ‘elected public authority’, it shows that standing for election is a fundamental part of what we do.  If we don’t stand for election we’re just a pressure group and not a political party.  We might not agree with Police and Crime Commissioners, but then we also don’t agree with directly-elected mayors yet we still stand.  Similarly, we stand under First Past The Post elections whilst supporting proportional representation.  The political structures may not be the ones we want, but they’re the ones that exist and if we don’t stand for election we can’t change them or make what they do as Liberal Democrat as possible.

DAMAGE TO THE PARTY’S IMAGE

Now I’m sure our opponents would say that our image has already been damaged since we went in to government, but would our image be improved any further by us not standing?  At the General Election we stood candidates everywhere because it gave us credibility as a national party, and so we can hardly argue the opposite now.  You only had to look at the press obsession with us having fewer council candidates in May (despite the fact that it was only marginally lower and in places where we’d always struggled) to see how obessesed they will get if we don’t stand.  The press line will be that we clearly are struggling, because we can’t even find candidates.  Instead, by standing everywhere and winning some of the contests it will, in the way that by-elections often have done, show that are still a thriving party.  Our opinion poll ratings have improved from “being disastrous, to just very worrying,” (as someone recently described it), and we are finally performing well in council by-elections and gaining our first seat from Labour.  This feeling of improvement and growing credibility will be destroyed if we fail to stand candidates, whether that is a blanket failure to stand or picking and choosing.

NOT STANDING WILL HINDER OUR LONG-TERM CAMPAIGNING

One of the mantras of the party’s campaigning over the years has not only been to always stand a candidate, but that doing so helps people get in to the habit of voting Liberal Democrat and it helps develop local campaigning over time.  However, if in the Police and Crime Commissioner elections our supporters have to go off and find someone else to vote for, it breaks that habit and makes it harder for us to win those people back in the future.  Many of us who were fighting hard at the General Election to help the party win key parliamentary target seats know how difficult it can be to persuade people to break their loyalty to a party they’ve always supported.  This weekend I was helping do some party training in Bradford, and one of the things we talked about was how getting people to vote for you involves both breaking their allegiance to another party and then persuading them that you’re the party they should now switch to.  If we don’t stand candidates we’ve already done the first half of that job for our opponents.

BACKING INDEPENDENTS IS NEVER THE SOLUTION

A third option for the party is to back independent candidates in certain areas, but my fear with this is who makes that decision.  Do we run an all-member ballot or is that decision just left to the Liberal Democrat great and the good of that police authority area?  I’ve written before about why I don’t believe Liberal Democrats should ever endorse Independent candidates.  But on Police and Crime Commissioners I don’t see how we can ever be entirely sure that someone is genuinely a Liberal Democrat in their views without going through the party approval and selection process, which of course would mean that they were then not really independent.  If there was to be no Liberal Democrat in my area I would still vote, as I believe you always should, but I wouldn’t necessarily back the party’s preferred candidate.  And whilst I may do the research to decide which one is the more Lib Dem candidate in their views, would most of our voters really do that and can I be entirely confident in that research?

The view of party members on whether we should stand in Police and Crime Commissioner elections was made very clear in a recent poll by Liberal Democrat Voice where 57% of members were in favour.  This view of the grassroots is also endorsed by ALDC whose Management Committee recently voted unanimously that we should stand candidates.  But at the same time many of ‘the powers that be’ in the party are known to be against and the English party’s executive has expressed its desire to not stand candidates (despite already starting the selection process).  The decision who stands will finally come down to local areas, but the views of the party’s committees are essential in making sure they endorse the process and that the candidates we have are ‘official’ and backed by the party’s upper echelons.  I hope that tonight, the Federal Executive will do the right thing and back the decision to run candidates everywhere.

Although I work for ALDC this post is written in a personal capacity.

Lib Dem Conference Review 2011

I can’t believe I’ve been going to Liberal Democrat Federal Conference for 15 years now, and although I’ve missed a few Spring conferences I’ve been to every single Autumn conference since that first one in Brighton in 1996.  At that time they were all in seaside resorts (except Harrogate, which is pretty much a seaside resort, only without the sea) but now we’re often in cities.  My conferences have also changed from having too much time on my hands but at least being able to attend whatever I want, to now being busy with work commitments for most of the day. But despite that, conference is that moment of the year when I get re-enthused and come away feeling upbeat and ready for the political year ahead.  So here’s my review of this year’s Liberal Democrat Conference which is just a random outpouring of things I’ve enjoyed, a few thoughts and the things I’ve learnt:

  1. The Liberal Democrats are generally at ease with where they are and with being in government.  Nick Clegg summed it up in his speech with the comment that it’s “not easy, but right”.  Like many people I know, I was fully behind the coalition despite my years of hating the Tories.  I still dislike the Tories, (although Labour’s behaviour is starting to make them become more hated), but I realise it was the right thing to do.  Even those who aren’t keen on Nick Clegg have pretty much accepted the coalition and whilst they may not agree with everything (and in some cases, not agree very much) they are starting to enjoy government.  It’s not easy.  Those of us at the grassroots who get no material benefit from the coalition, may get a lot of flack, but actually being able to do something rather than talking about it and being taken seriously (you should see the number of journalists, outside observers and exhibitors we now get), makes it worth it.
  2. A good speech can re-invigorate you.  I’m not just talking about the leader’s speech or the other big set speeches, but far more so is the other good speeches and debates you hear in the fringe meetings.  Those who don’t go to conference (and I’ll explain a few things in this review for non-conference goers) often don’t realise that the vast majority of time is not spent in the auditorium debating policy and listening to speeches, but a lot of it is spent in fringe meetings with discussions involving the party’s parliamentarians and a host of outside speakers, (including some from other parties), who get invited along, and in training sessions.  I went to a small number of fringe meetings because of my work commitments, but the best I went to was on community politics and I’ll write about this later.
  3. I’m getting old and can’t cope with long days and late nights.  One of the great things with conference is that after attending for many years you acquire many friends from all over the country, and this is the one time you get to see them all in one place at the same time.  For that reason, you end up being very late at night drinking more than you should and chatting to people.  Sometimes that would involve staying up until 3am or 4am.  But this year I just couldn’t do it and had to have two early nights and even the later nights were earlier than usual.
  4. Whilst on the subject of drink, the amount that hotels charge for drinks is horrendous.  Normally I would never drink in hotel bars, but at conferences they are where everyone gravitates to as it’s where the key party members stay and they are usually prepared to serve people until very late.  But £4.00 for a pint of lager is surely far from reasonable.  Y0u know who you are, Hyatt Birmingham.
  5. Sarah Teather should stick to just doing capable speeches and not doing gags.  She’s a very good constituency MP and can do a very good speech, but her jokes at this conference were just dire.
  6. RNIB do a good conference stand.  It was designed to look like a haberdasher’s shop on the basis that “a stitch in time saves nine” and that doing proper eyesight checks now and spending money on cataract operations saves money overall.  But the effort and the detail that went in to their stand was unbelievable.  For those who worry about the cost of it, they had a sponsor pay for the stand.  I should declare an interest as a friend of mine works for RNIB, but it was genuinely impressive.
  7. Birmingham is a great conference venue.  We’ve changed quite a lot in the places we’ve had conferences recently, although after Gateshead Newcastle next Spring we will have reached the end of new venues for now (apparently we might have done a few in Manchester as well if it wasn’t for Labour booking it up years ahead, and as it’s the consecutive week to our conference we can never go to the same place as Labour do in that year as there isn’t time for the change over).  What I like about Birmingham though is that the hotels and the ICC are very close together as are places to eat.  Although I do like Birmingham generally anyway.
  8. The discussion at conference is not the leadership.  One of them is how we turn things round and communicate all the good stuff that’s happening in government.  There’s lots of it and yet we don’t get that message across, but people seem up for the challenge and trying to turn round the views of those who are sceptical about the government.  For those who don’t know what the Lib Dems in government have achieved, can I recommend the website What the Hell Have the Lib Dems Done.
  9. The really big talk at conference is Connect and it’s going to be a revolution for the party.  For a long time the Lib Dems were ahead of the other parties on how it used technology to campaign.  Then we gradually slipped behind.  Now with the new Connect system we are going to move massively ahead again with an online campaign database that is light years ahead of where we are now.  I was privileged to be asked to be on the decision team that recommended what campaign databases we used in the future, and so I saw it for the first time months ago, but everytime I see it again I find another amazing feature that I didn’t know about.  Thank you to NGP VAN who have created an amazing product and are genuinely nice interesting people to have got to know.
  10. Jurys Inn remain my favourite hotel chain.  Nice hotels and not as expensive as many other decent chains.
  11. Some fringe meetings provide great food especially when they’re sponsored (thank you to The Co-operative and B&Q), however you can’t rely on the same from Liberal Democrat regional parties to provide a brilliant buffet.  For evidence, see here for South Central and South East’s catering offer.
  12. Lib Dems just get massive security now.  A lot of people in Sheffield were (perhaps understandably) unhappy with the size of the fence that surrounded Sheffield’s City Hall for our Spring Conference and the cost of the policing, and the members were fed up of the checks on badges and the bag and body scanning.  But remarkably some people were convinced that the protection for our conference was just about us trying to look important.  But it’s just the way things are.  Sheffield was an issue because the conference venue was central in the city.  In Birmingham it wasn’t but it still involved shutting Broad Street, one of the city centre’s busiest streets.  While I’m on the subject though, what the hell does pelkin mean?  The police operation for the conference was Operation Pelkin, which apparently is what they always use for political party conferences.  A few us thought they should have had something more Lib Dem like Operation Sandals or Operation Beard, but given that most ‘operations’ tend to be called something dramatic like Operation Brute Force, the most Lib Dem we could think of was Operation Muscular Liberalism.
  13. The Lib Dem Voice Blog of the Year Awards reminded me that I should just keep blogging as much as possible as I am probably capable it’s just that I lack the time and I worry about the implications of me saying something stupid.  But when you are reminded of the good stuff people write and you remember all the things you wish you’d blogged on then didn’t bother I just want to do it more.  But what astounds me is how worked up some people get about who did or didn’t win.  It’s just for fun!
  14. It’s bizarre how many people I now know.  One of the consequences of having lived all over the country and working in a job where 3,000 or so party members see regular emails from you, is that people know your name even if you don’t know then.  It’s bizarre but quite interesting.
  15. Finally, Nick Clegg’s brilliant speech.  It seems to have gone down very well with members and with some of the media.  It certainly helps when you finish conference on a brilliant speech that really made Nick look like a statesman.