Earlier this autumn I was at the London AGM where Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder gave a rousing speech. I was lucky enough to see her at the Newbie Pint at Conference, so I know how passionate she is. When Catherine mentioned that she was running a training event in Brussels aimed at PPCs, I leapt at the opportunity. And what an experience!
It was my first time to Brussels, the European Parliament was gladiatorial in size and the scope of what it does is extraordinary. Even for someone who is an ardent European (currently Brexit will remove it legally but not in birthright) I hadn’t understood the wealth of research, knowledge and resource that it provides. We were given a tour and a tutorial to have a better understanding of exactly how all the cogs work. That should be taught in all schools.
Then we had the chance to meet lobbyists, MEPs and the Brussels Lib Dems. They were kind enough to host us for the evening for a wonderful night, doing what we do best, waxing lyrical about liberalism! We took in a light show in the heart of Brussels to celebrate St Nicholas Day, with some amusing videography from the enthusiastic Daisy Benson.
An early start the next day gave us the opportunity to improve our media skills and really drill down into how we get our message across to different media outlets. A huge thanks to Laura Shields, incoming Chair of Brussels Lib Dems and media guru, for her patience in working on our personal stories and our ability to deal with the press. We were exceptionally lucky that our visit coincided with Tim Farron speaking to the ALDE Group, including Guy Verhofstadt. His passionate words really hit home.
It was striking and deeply saddening to hear the views of leaders of other European Liberal parties and the perception of Britain as an unwelcoming and hostile place as a consequence of Brexit. We have a fight to rebuild our country’s reputation as the open, tolerant and united society we feel it is.
We moved on to hearing Sophie in ‘t Veld, the Dutch D66 Party Leader, giving her insightful take on coalitions and right wing politics. She is my current favourite female politician. Then Frederick Federley, a Swedish MEP, gave us yet more food for thought and it really felt like I was in an episode of Borgen because he was that cool.
Alongside these consummate professionals we also had training in fundraising and finally Catherine Bearder rounded off our visit. She told us about how she moved into politics and her experiences as an MEP, an account which was both personal and revealed quite how hard she works.
It was a wonderful and intense day and a half. It provided me with useful resources, knowledge and gave me a chance to engage with senior politicians. I learnt a lot but also established closer connections with fellow PPCs and Lib Dems abroad, which will hold me and I hope others in good stead.
We are in unprecedented times and it is only through our colleagues, our enthusiasm for our movement and party, our new members and for the values of liberalism that we will win. The visit made me feel #proud2bliberal.
* Annabel Mullin is the Liberal Democrat PPC for Kensington