Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Tuesday Conference - Exhibitions and the Glee Club

I have had a more relaxed morning today. Conference can get a bit intense at times. So I strolled through the park that runs through Bournemouth to a little cafe for breakfast. Bournemouth is a great place; it has elements of a European city with its open spaces and some of its art deco buildings, a little like Barcelona on some ways, then it has the elegance of a Victorian city and sea side town. I took a walk along the shoreline, the firm wet line of sand right by the water. Bournemouth has some of the best beaches in Britain.

I then made a proper visit to the Exhibition so I could talk to some of the exhibitors. I had an interesting debate at the ‘Friends of Israel’ stand (which for various reasons is not next to the ‘Friends of Palestine’), spoke to the Federation of Small Businesses about our town centres, used the cashpoint at the Post Office stand (which for the Lib-Dem conference at least was still open and I wondered whether it would remain open for the whole of the Labour conference), chatted to printers, the Countryside Alliance (which are not all about fox hunting) and a whole host of others.

My first true event of the day was with the, Institute of Directors where Vince Cable spoke about the future of the economy. Vince spoke about bonus payments in the financial industry, liberal regulation in the market to provide institutions people can trust and who would provide a stable financial environment. The speaker from the IoD gave a constructive and favourable response to our policies. He stressed that it was important that Britain remained competitive.

A very long walk up the hill for an interesting training session.

I needed a sandwich at this point and so went into a coffee shop and while I ate read a copy of the Daily Mail. At the conference its so easy to be in a bit of a bubble, so I was reassured to read that; Britain is officially the most crowded place in Europe, there are paedophiles round every corner and three teenagers have been stabbed 666 times and eaten by Russian Satanists.

Tonight I am having dinner with some people from the region, not sure who yet, I am filling a place that has become free, and then it is the glee club!

OK, I will tell you about the glee club. You would not believe it unless you had seen it.

It is basically the end of conference party, with a tradition that goes right back to who knows when, Gladstone probably! (now there is a thought). The party faithful gather for a few drinks and to sing songs ancient and modern ranging from hymns on land reform, Jerusalem and more recent irreverent versions of catchy tunes celebrating the exploits of former leaders. These are accompanied by John Hemming MP on Piano and an assortment of turns by heroic campaign teams from by elections past. It is something to be witnessed I can tell you! Last year Paddy Ashdown told the longest and eventually pointless shaggy dog story. I wonder if Nick will do a turn this year, I hope so.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Serious Debating on Monday

Each year the BBC put on an informative Breakfast which is a good start to the day. This year they used it as an opportunity to preview their new BBC Persian service. Countries such as Iran have a large, educated & progressive young population. I am convinced that the only constructive hope for progress in Iran is through its youth. This new BBC service is vibrant and will celebrate Persian culture and I am convinced will contribute to progress of freedom for the people in this part of the world.

I then headed down the hill to attend the Party Reform Commission consultation where one of our local councillors, Sarah Boad spoke, stressing the importance of our councillors.

More training with Jenny Willott MP, then off to a lively fringe by the NUT discussing 'Who Should Run Schools?', (for example Academies vs Local Authority) with MP’s David Laws and Paul Holmes, I always like listening to Paul as he is plain speaking and with conviction.

So then onto the debate on our Pre-manifesto, ‘Make it Happen’. (After a cup of tea) It will be interesting to see how the media write this one up tomorrow.

Each conference there is always a debate that is both controversial and enjoyable. A contentious debate at a Lib-Dem conference will find most delegates applauding a speaker even if they disagree with what they had to say (very Liberal). Fellow delegates have told me how much they enjoyed such a debate even if their point of view lost.

So I have just popped back to my holiday flat to drop off some campaign materials I have been meaning to take away for a couple of days. I have a busy evening, Regional and then a National European Campaign team meeting, then the Parliamentary Candidates reception which will be a chance to grab something to eat and chat to colleagues, before rounding it off the evening at the ‘Liberal Review – Humour Balance Task Force’ which could be a lot of fun.

I can only give you a small view of a Party Conference as there is so much to do, be informed about and get involved in, that any person can only see a fraction of it.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

So what happens at Party Conferences?

Anyone who has never been to a party conference might wonder what we do all day. Well its not all sitting in a huge conference hall listening to debates on taper relief of capital gain tax, followed by partying till the early hours in the conference bar. There is training, fringe events, photo sessions, campaign groups to talk to, media and meetings with colleagues and various party bodies. There might be some drinking in the hotel bar, but tonight I am having an early night as I have an early start tomorrow.

So I started the second day again with some more training, there is no shortage of training in the Lib-Dem's, yet its all useful.

On the way out of the conference centre I got talking to campaigners from Rethink, a mental health campaign organisation. There is real inequality in just about every area of life for people with mental health issues, including mild depression that can effect any of us. Then there is the bigger issue of the huge percentage of people in our bulging prisons who have mental health issues. Surely treatment is more appropriate than banging them up!

Time cup of tea before attending a fringe from the 'ippr' with Norman Lamb looking at the balance between Public & Private provision of Public Services. This is a debate all major parties are having at the moment and we can learn much from countries such as Sweden.

I managed to grab something to eat then went into the Q&A with Nick Clegg. Nick answered a range of questions including; is he Cameron Lite, or Clegg Full Strength. Nick answered this by comparing policies, finally stating David Cameron would never do that! Nick believes we have the best policies on for example; housing, public services and the economy. Nick's ambition is that we remain the trend setter in British politics in the way have been on the environment.

Quick trek up the hill for a briefing with Vince Cable. Vince discussed some of the issues with the housing market. Councils should be able to buy empty properties or where people are unable to keep up with their payments and rentback.

Vince clarified our new tax proposals through closing tax avoidance, green taxes & savings. Regarding regulation of banking, ask me about, Countercyclical Regulation when I get back and see if I remember.

Finally an evening fringe run by Oxfam discussing how Climate Change is a Foreign Policy issue, with shifting weather patterns, basic resources such as water will become a valuable commodity which are already creating tensions around the globe. Countries such as the USA are not immune to this as deforestation in Brazil will affect rainfall in parts of the mid-west. So we need an international framework to agree how much water can be taken out of rivers and regulate the activities of countries that would affect neighbours. Quite a challenge!

Another full and interesting day, we have been so lucky with the weather. I think I have earned a pint on the conference hotel lawn overlooking the sea.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Saturday at The Lib-Dem Conference. Training, Debate and Dancing.

I started the conference on a sunny morning with a walk up one of the many hills here in Bournemouth for a training session.

Its interesting to note that polling shows that Crime, Health & Education are still top issues, however Cost of Living is rising as an issue people are concerned about.

I had time for a quick sandwich then onto a briefing. I had time for a quick photo shoot with Liberal Youth; graphically putting the case for votes at 16, then back up the hill for more training.

Its proving to be a full day, quick spin round the exhibition, a chat to a couple of colleagues I bumped into, then a needed cup of coffee before going into a Policy Debate on International Security in the main hall. Our policy on International Security includes; Prevention rather than cure, Work within and strengthen the International Communities and Support our troops so they are well cared for and equipped for when we have to use them. (In fact the way our service personnel is cared for is appalling, not only lack of equipment, some of their housing is so bad I would not board my cat there.)

The rally was opened by an excellent dance troop from a youth project in Grimsby. Nick Clegg developed the theme, 'politics is broken'. Only one man can be trusted with economy, Vince Cable and only the Liberal Democrats can unite people & politics.

Thirsty work so I ended the day in the conference bar, followed by dinner with the chair of neighbouring constituency Kenilworth & Southam.

Bournemouth is a cracking venue for the conference and so far the weather has been bright and sunny. Stunning view of the moon over the bay this evening, let’s hope it keeps fine.

I will be interested in how the conference comes over in the media, so please let me know how you see it from the papers and TV.