2018 Brighton Conference – Reporting by Journalist

John Crace of the Guardian made a snide comment on Monday – in his piece about Gina Miller’s speech he said we took a “two-and-a-half-hour lunch break. Presumably, because there wasn’t much more business to discuss.”

I couldn’t disagree with him more – and that’s not just because I’m a member of the Federal Conference Committee. Of course, there was plenty to say on Brexit, where Tories and Labour are tearing themselves apart. However, we debated so many other important issues – how we enable people to thrive in a world of rapid technological change, how we address increasing inequality through wealth taxation and how we empower communities to determine their own futures. We made brave and yes, radical policy in several areas – calling for the decriminalisation of abortion, replacement of business rates with a land value tax and a new migration policy that celebrates the impact that migrants have had in the UK.

A few things struck me this time that was different. Firstly, the number of speaker cards we had from new councillors, elected in the last couple of years. They reminded us once again about the huge impact of 60% reductions to council funding, but they had positive stories of how Lib Dems are making a difference – whether it was a big new housing scheme in Cheltenham, radical approaches to cutting carbon emissions in South Cambridgeshire or the real challenge we now offer to the old Labour one-party states in London local authorities. Secondly, there were so many first-time speakers – which I think proves that we had an agenda that inspired people to overcome their nerves and get up on the conference stage, and that our expanded membership is bringing forward fresh ideas. Thirdly the number of people in the conference hall for all of the debates was striking – even on arcane matters such as land value taxation.

Lib Dems like so many other people in the UK at the moment in these turbulent, polarised times is looking for answers.  Unlike the extremists on the right and the left, we do not offer simplistic, populist solutions, instead our debates are nuanced, considering the complexities and trade-offs that need to be made. The policy that we make is actually deliverable, rather than easy promises that fall at the first hurdle.

So, John, and all the other nay-sayer journos out there, we have plenty to talk about, and plenty to be proud about.

* Cara Jenkinson is Vice-Chair of Haringey Liberal Democrats and PPC for Enfield North

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  • Well said Cara could not agree more!! Although I was not at the conference I followed the procedures on the daily catchup, and I also thought that Vince Cable’s speech was inspiring !!

  • John Marriott 19th Sep '18 - 12:36pm

    Crickey, what a load of fuss about nothing. Mr Crace is attempting to be funny. After all, that’s what the political sketch is supposed to be. As for Paul Walter’s response, great research, command of facts etc.; but why rise to the bait?

    We have a so called free press out there, which usually looks for sensationalism. Much of what appears in some papers is tittle tattle, pandering to the lowest common denominator. Thanks to Health and Safety you can’t even wrap your fish and crisps in them any more! Just don’t give them so much ammunition by over reaction. Those famous Rabbie Burns words come to mind.

  • Its a good job he didn’t accuse us of being po-faced and humourless.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 19th Sep '18 - 1:13pm

    Cara, the many aspects you mention which are commendable, are including an issue in my view regrettable, abortion decriminalisation. It saddens those like me, who agree with the law as is or favour a slight reduction in weeks, to see this not enough for you and those who support the new policy. Conscience votes when the new bill is introduced are one hopes to yet be supported, but it did not say it in the policy. Also, are those who abort plenty of weeks after the current limit, to be prosecuted in the courts, unclear. And the policy says this country should let those who visit for an abortion have it paid by us, electoral , moral, disaster. We do not let others use our health service for treatments as health visitors, so why abortion. The framers have no respect for the moderate stance Sir Vince says we represent, or a few of us.

  • Stephen Howse 19th Sep '18 - 1:46pm

    We may have plenty to talk about but nobody outside of the party is listening, and why would they?

    Other than Cable’s exotic spresm there’s been little to no press coverage. This conference (as someone who wasn’t there but followed intently from afar) smacks of a party treading water and happy to be doing so.

  • Peter Watson 19th Sep '18 - 2:58pm

    I was more struck by Crace’s observation that, “Having mysteriously remained silent while Tom Brake and Wera Hobhouse spoke in the earlier debate, the cameras flashed into action when [Gina] Miller took her seat minutes before she was due to speak.”
    And also, “If the chances of a “people’s vote” have increased dramatically over the past six months, it almost certainly has everything to do with the hopelessness of the government’s EU negotiating strategy rather than the public finally hearing the Lib Dem message.”
    Both of these reflect real and similar challenges for the party: being noticed and listened to, both in terms of having senior figures to which the media pays attention and messages which are heard by the electorate.

  • Vince should be careful having exotic spresms at his age.

  • I watched Vince Cable’s speech on BBC. It was many things, but inspiring it was not.

  • Lorna Stirling 20th Sep '18 - 8:04am

    I watched the end of the Gina Miller speech and the chairman’s remarks on the break for lunch and was willing him to comment on the fringe events and training because of the negative public perception of a two and a half hour lunch.

  • Peter Hirst 22nd Sep '18 - 4:02pm

    The lunch break was too long, especially for those remaining in the centre and not attending a Fringe meeting. Perhaps some entertainment could be considered if this recurs. A couple of large screens on the ground floor showing sport or previous conference highlights might also be considered.

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