Well fellow Lib Dems, Bloggers and Tweeps… what did you make of conference then? Having been granted the honour of being “Guest Editor” (quaking in me boots it has to be said!) I thought, given the timing, it may be an opportunity to reflect on the last week in Liverpool.
What I want to do is to try and get a feel from members across the spectrum of our party, has conference left them feeling uplifted, confused, motivated, anxious, hopeful, proud?
I hope what follows today, especially for those of you who weren’t there, will give you a bit of an insight – will balance the views of the so called expert analysts Nick Robinson, Adam Boulton et al, will begin to give us a hint as to where we are headed – will the troops compliantly follow the Cleggy colours over the hill to victory or to defeat? Or is there a mutiny brewing amongst the NCOs?
So, I hope you will agree we have some interesting contributions – but please add yours too! If you were there, did you start off apprehensive and leave ecstatic? Did you share the mood of euphoria or were you harbouring anxieties about the future of the party and the country?
And if you weren’t there – what did it look like from outside? The Lib Dems, confident, competent, ready to govern, standing up for what they believed in or did it feel like Tory lite? Were you able to get a handle on what distinguished us from our coalition partners?
I have to say that for me conference was a cornucopia or maybe Smörgåsbord of emotions. There were times when I felt really hopeful, yes we are making a difference, yes the undoubted policy vacuums give us a wonderful opportunity to fill the void with Lib Dem policies. And then there were the real lows – hearing Oliver Letwin talk a load of Tory twaddle (I have to confess the word rubbish somehow left my lips without my consent at one point) and then telling us how he and Danny Alexander were like peas in a pod.
Of course I am delighted that this is clearly a more liberal government – that our civil liberties are being restored to us, that we are going to be able to play a part in ensuring a more enlightened approach to the justice system. But I am extremely anxious about the cuts.
What I sensed at conference was an eclectic mix of euphoria tinged with a slightly suppressed disquiet. Nick was our hero – but could we really swallow all the so called “essential cuts”. There was a real sense of anger about Academies and Free Schools but a contrary sense of hope in the Trident debate – could this be just what Nick Harvey needed to strengthen his arm? The excellent Social Liberal Forum motion – Ensuring Fairness in an Age of Austerity generated an important debate, drawing a line in the sand, demonstrating that despite the coalition and the coalition agreement, the heart of our party is truly progressive and we will not stand by and condone cuts that unfairly discriminate against the most vulnerable in our society. The test will be how many of our ministers in general and Danny Alexander in particular, will not only take this policy on board but will argue for it in government.
The loss of the Diversity motion was a personal blow, having had two non members comment on how white our party was during conference, I find it extraordinary that our liberal party is so conservative when it comes to trying to address this issue. The logical conclusion of the meritocracy argument is that women and BME communities must be inferior because otherwise they would be proportionally represented in parliament. Until we recognise just how deep rooted and subliminal our prejudices are, we will never have the equality we as a party claim to espouse.
What follows today I trust will capture the breadth of views and reflect many of the issues raised at and by conference – enjoy – and if not? It’s #Jacksfault!