What a first conference! From Friday evening through to Sunday afternoon it did not stop. Sleep seemed to be one luxury too many.
The organisation was far better than I expected. Every event started on time and there were stewards everywhere to help direct you and answer your questions. It was very smooth and professional throughout and everyone I met seemed friendly.
Friday was International Women’s Day and the first event I attended was the Conference rally. Nick Clegg came on and delivered a very good speech addressing the problems of recent weeks. The following speakers (Shirley Williams, Jo Swinson, Lynne Featherstone and Sarah Young) all delivered excellent talks with Lynne producing a very strong case for continued investment in international aid at a time when there are strident calls for its reduction. By the end of the rally I was fired up and really glad to be a Liberal Democrat.
After a quick dash around the exhibition, it was time to go to the First Timers meeting where we got to schmooze with the leadership. Tim Farron and Nick Clegg welcomed us and told us how unique the Liberal Democrats were in our Federal structure. They then proceeded to chat with us individually and they both came across as sincere and nice people. All this made me a bit late for the Social Media event organised by Tom Brake and I missed Paddy Ashdown. The panellists introduced some really thought provoking ideas and the way that Obama communicated with hard to reach voters using social media definitely has lessons for us.
Saturday was a learning day. Training courses ran all day and the only problem I had was choosing which to attend. Those that I attended were of a very high standard and were delivered by experts. I did play truant to see the Nick Clegg Q&A in the main hall – I wish I had not. It started well with some various innocuous questions expertly handled by Nick. When the questions moved on to secret courts, it ran into trouble. Nick came over as quite out of touch and did not address the concerns of the questioners.
I will not attempt to describe the Glee Club except to say that a good and noisy time was had by all and the Liberal Democrats certainly know how to party.
It was an early start on Sunday to get to the conference hall for the emergency debate on secret courts. Jo Shaw opened the proceedings with a powerful and heartfelt speech that culminated in her resignation from the party. She got an ovation, but I was shell shocked. There were some uninspiring speeches against the motion but the passion and eloquence of speeches in support easily won the day. When the vote came, there were only around ten votes against the motion and it was carried overwhelmingly. But Jo had resigned.
The stage was set for Nick Clegg to close the conference. I expected him to address the concerns raised by the secret courts issue but he delivered a competent speech calling on us to pass on the new message. I joined in the standing ovation but my heart was not in it.
That was my first conference and it was a fantastic experience. I left somewhat confused as I had joined the Liberal Democrats because they supported civil rights. What now?
* Anthony Hawkes worked mainly in the oil industry around the world. Since retirement he has become a Human Rights Activist and joined the LibDems to start fixing the world. He blogs at Crustry Old Codger.