Two AM at the main lobby bar of the Marriott Hotel, Bournemouth. The queue is four deep as it has been for the past three or four hours. The main room is overspilling in every direction. It’s loud. There’s shouting. There’s hugging. Someone spills a drink. A couple have a fight in the corner. A debate erupts in another. Someone exchanges a business card with someone else. Others flesh out details on an event they’re going to run they dreamt up with five or six minutes ago – a lifetime. Everyone has passed convivial long ago. I overhear a conversation that the bar has had to close every night because they keep running out of booze. I order a whisky and ginger. “We’ve only got Jamesons left.”
I didn’t know entirely what to expect when I decided to go to Lib Dem Conference this year. I’ve never done a party conference before. Truth be told, in the lead up to this one, I was wondering if I’d made the right decision to go.
Organising the #libdempints over the past few months has been fantastic. The people we’ve met at our events have been enthusiastic, full of energy, and they’ve all come from different places, at different stages in their lives. It’s brilliant to see.
But going to conference felt like a bigger barrier. It’s a much bigger commitment than sidling into a pub basement on a Monday night for a few quick drinks to catch a speech by the likes of Jo Swinson or Paddy Ashdown. Was this just going to be a place where you had to live and breathe politics for every hour of the day to get by? I had hoped not.
So how was it? Well, while the drinking and partying are definite strong points, there’s some serious bits underlying everything as well:
- It’s a city full of people who like politics: that means plenty of debates with similarly-minded folk – importantly and surprisingly, there was a real sense to welcome differing opinion and approach debate maturely
- Motions like Trident and One Member, One Vote – both had some incredible speakers at them, lively debate and a real, genuine sense that you were a part of something by being in the room
- Pete’s speech in One Member, One Vote. He put forward a great case: most members cannot attend conference and those who do are at the folly of their local party to decide if they get the right to vote. Pete was twice interrupted for applause, and the vote passed. Daisy Cooper’s speech in this debate was incredibly powerful as well
- Elaine Bagshaw’s policy pitch for education: that we start teaching per ability rather than age. I’ve had a few conversations about this in the day job and think it’s a fascinating idea. Will be offering Elaine any support I can on that
- The people – obvious one but really important. I met so many people who were full of hope and optimism
- Liberal Reform – between their fringe events and the bar, it was great to meet many of those involved – esp. to hear so many sound voices. Their equality debate was particularly strong, and between Kav & Sam, they really put forward a strong, compelling case for the free market approach, which I definitely side with
- Jo Swinson – second time I’ve seen her speak and the more compelled I was by her. I could easily (and welcomingly) see her as a future leader of the party
- #libdempint – my word, that was fun. A very special thank you to Dom for helping with organising, flyering and promoting at this year’s conference. We had a solid 200 people there, Greg Mulholland and Paddy Ashdown as speakers, and some of the best conversations I’d been a part of all weekend. Let’s do that again
- It was actually quite like a holiday – even though I didn’t expect it would be
- The lack of ambition for most of the main conference motions was appalling. Refugees? Of bloody course we’re going to be in favour of that. Environment? Oh that’s it – we want to make that better too. I’d far rather have seen a motion for Opening Up Our Borders – regardless of for migration or asylum
- It’s expensive. This isn’t the end of the world for those there, but it creates a definite divide of those who could afford to come. Once you’ve taken into account travel, accommodation, food and drink (and for better or worse, this is the full conference experience), you’ve spent £700+
- Policy isn’t really set by the members. It’s set by representatives of constituencies who attend conference. Even with OMOV, it’s just attendees of conference. What about the rest of the 60,000? What about the rest of the population? How can we get everyone involved? We need digital voting in some form so that every member can get involved, without it I feel that ‘Democrats’ part of our title isn’t really in good faith
I was really surprised by conference. I thought that I’d grow bored of that much politics that much day in, day out. But actually between the solid core group (out to Ali, Ben, Pete, Sarah) we had navigating Bournemouth, it remained fun throughout. In spite of its negatives – which hopefully can change over time – it really is a great few days.
At the very first #libdempint we ever threw, I remember someone walk in with a look of pure joy on her face. She later told me how happy she was that so many new members had joined up and had organised such an event. She went on to become a regular attendee and organiser for the events, as well providing great understanding of everything Lib Dem.
I was always a bit nervous that being a former Tory and pretty right wing economically wouldn’t get me very far in the party, but she persuaded me different. At one of those early pints, I was extolling the virtues of the Orange Book to her and she encouraged me that I had to go to conference to get involved and help make that happen.
Today, I got back from that conference which she recommended to me, and I had a fantastic time. So a very special thank you to Daisy for making sure that we’d all come and making us feel at home, you star. Here’s to York.