Liberal Democrats at grassroots level across the country had been suffering since our landslide defeat in local elections and the defeat of the Alternative Vote referendum in May 2011. This has led, I believe, to a reduction in political engagement across the party at a local and national level.
That is why the autumn conference was both an opportunity to look to the future, and to celebrate Liberal Democratic core values and successes within the Coalition. Phoenixes of a feather flocked together in Birmingham last week, and immediately campaigners felt more at ease and more positive.
Despite valid concerns about levels of accreditation, increasing levels of security and the vast difference in numbers of lobbyists, politicians and press coverage than seen before, Liberal Democrats from all over the country embraced radical policy motions, gave standing ovations to ministers, and sought to redefine themselves in the new era of politics.
A position in government
As Nick Clegg said in his speech:
That is the liberal spirit and that is something we will never lose. The spirit that gave birth to our party a century and half ago, that kept us alive when the other two parties tried to kill us off. The spirit that means however great our past, our fight will always be for a better future.
As we watch the socially traumatic cuts being made in Greece and protesters take to the streets to defend their civil liberties, Liberal Democrats can take comfort that under the Coalition government deficit reduction strategy we will not be faced with a similar outcome in the UK. The strategy may be tough, and spark knee-jerk political reactions from the opposition, but it is necessary to stay strong and accept the necessity of our actions.
Some consider it to be a radical position for the minority party in the Coalition Government to be proposing radical policy, voted on by his own party members, tackling significant social ills. In particular, the Liberal Democrat Conference took the risk of addressing legislation surrounding illegal substances, the emotive subject of violence against women, and repealing laws introduced by the Labour government that erode our civil liberties on the Internet.
Though there were hundreds of lobbyists present in the conference hotels every evening trying to influence government policy, it was the members of the Liberal Democrats ourselves who were actually doing so. I find it unfathomable that anyone would want to be a member of a political party where they are not able to leverage and influence their own party policy democratically.
My own local party is ready to pound the streets again and I hope that other local parties have been empowered by the recent Liberal Democrat conference. A hundred training sessions, the delivery of new campaign ideas, and a passionately determined ministerial presence has reinvigorated hope within the party.
Instead of talking about how unfair it is that the media do not cover our conference more, there has been significant delight in the generation of publicity. The right-wing press may seek to present the party in a detrimental light, but in order to do so, they now give over double page spreads and entire pages of comment on why they consider us to be wrong! This can only be considered a success for a party whose autumn conference was usually largely ignored.
* Kelly-Marie Blundell is a Lib Dem member in Ashford.