Caron’s musings on Federal Conference in Glasgow

I know, I know, it’s been a week since the Glasgow conference and I still haven’t got around to writing my usual round up post. You can put that down to there being a by-election in the offing in Dunfermline. I’ll warn you that this post is quite long, but if you make it to the end, you will be rewarded. Click on the last link. Anyway, before it gets more than embarrassingly late to do this, here are my random thoughts:

Nick got it right

My heart sank in the run-up to Conference as I read countless newspaper articles suggesting that Nick was going to do a confrontational “back me or sack me” style summation in the economy debate, aimed at giving the Social Liberal Forum a good kicking. I felt that this would be entirely counter-productive and, actually, not very Nick. It was a huge relief, therefore, to see him, at the end of a quality debate, come up and end it by making a very positive speech.

He was in excellent form throughout all of Conference, whether being all relaxed and chatty at the Liberal Democrat Voice Awards or delivering that bold, passionate and gutsy speech. It was full of our values and he only used that awful phrase “the centre ground” once. I’ll let him off for that because he had already gone to great lengths to explain who we were and what we were about, summing up in one paragraph where we were different from the Conservatives:

The Conservatives, on the other hand, have made it clear that their priority is to help some families over others, with a tax break for married couples. A tax break for some, funded through the taxes of everybody else – that tells you everything you need to know about their values.

We, however, will help all families in these tough times, not just the kind we like best, by helping their young children get the best possible start in life – and that tells you everything about our values. Providing this kind of help, Liberal Democrats, is now, the most important thing we can do.

I always go on about politicians needing to put a bit of themselves into their speeches and show some emotion, tug on heartstrings and Nick did exactly that.

Ryan Coetzee is making a big difference – for the better

We left with a bit more of an idea of where we’re going and how we’re going to get there. That’s down in no small part to Ryan Coetzee. It’s a great pity that he couldn’t have been with us a few years earlier as he might have prevented some of the early coalition blunders.

When he arrived, we were floundering a bit. Now we have a clear and consistent message – that stronger economy and fairer society thing is his baby. He needs to turn his hand now to making sure we get the credit for it. It’s a good phrase which is why both Labour and Conservative politicians have used it. Just like the Tories have tried to claim credit for the tax threshold rise they argued so vehemently against in 2010, Labour are jumping on the childcare bandwagon like it’s only come up as an issue in the three years since they left office. We need to make sure that people realise that it’s the Liberal Democrats who have been setting that agenda. He’s sussed that in part with the On Message, In Volume, Over Time thing, but we need to all get creative about how we put that into practice.

Ryan is meticulous in his work and he does mix with the party, unlike his predecessors, going to regional conferences and talking to people. There may be times that he annoys us – find me a Liberal Democrat who finds the phrase “electoral market” anything other than intensely irritating – but he is, ultimately, one of us. He’s a political streetfighter who understands the real world.

Real debates

You wouldn’t find other parties debate issues like we do. I am fairly sure that’s why there’s so much resentment, bitterness and ill humour beneath the surface with them. We have our fights on the Conference floor and then go and have a drink and a good old sing along afterwards. This conference had some excellent debates with a lot of heat and light. The debate on protecting children from internet pornography was intense, passionate and illuminating. Let’s hope that the policy which emerges will reflect the views put forward that it’s talking, in the form of decent, mandatory sex education, not technology, in the form of ineffective filters, that will be most useful in protecting children from the effects of our hyper-sexualised culture.

Highlights from the Fringe

Yes, there were many meetings with the political glitterati but I missed them all. My top two were on issues very close to my heart. On Monday lunchtime we gathered at the India Quay restaurant to have a sumptuous buffet and a round table discussion with people who had been through the horrors of our asylum system. Some were still struggling. Nico’s application had been refused and he lived in daily fear of being turfed out of his home.

Then there was the Liberal Youth fringe on teen depression. Having Norman Lamb as a health minister who gives a damn about this stuff is enough by itself to get me through the bad days of being in coalition with THEM. Hearing him talk with such understanding and conviction about what he still feels needs to be done, including extending adolescent services to 25 was inspiring. And, coming from Scotland, where kids with severe mental health challenges  can wait up to a year to begin treatment, I felt a bit jealous. I remember how it feels to be that teenager who was just left to it and it pains me that others have to wait so long for help.

Sophie Bridger and Jade Holden spoke knowledgeably about their own experiences and their views on how services needed to be improved further. Something needs to happen to develop these ideas further. Watch this space.

The Venue

Glasgow is gorgeous but a bit close to home for me. I felt that I never really struck my conference rhythm because I was commuting. I actually never actually set foot in the bar. Can you believe it?

Once I sussed that the quickest way to get from exhibition to auditorium to hotel was to go outside, my life improved immeasurably. Those interminable labyrinthine corridors were very confusing.


The G4S people were generally pretty efficient and always polite to me, at least. However they were occasionally inconsistent, refusing to let me in to the centre before 8:30 when they had already let the two people I was meeting in and they had the same badge as I did.

There are also accounts of them being a bit too conscientious at inspecting and confiscating things. I know one person had a sheet of Bin the Bedroom Tax stickers confiscated – and given that that’s exactly what we voted to do, I can’t see why. LGBT+ Liberal Democrats had to unfurl their banner to check it was on message. It’s not clear what would have happened if they had felt there was a problem with its message. I’m not comfortable with them having the final say on such matters.

Not so gleeful

The Glee Club itself was wonderful. The room was bright and cool and the songs were as fabulous as ever. I’m a huge Glee fan and I don’t think there’s anything to beat it. However, I won’t be sad if the new Danny Boy song doesn’t make it into future editions of the song book. It’s just too cruel. Part of Glee’s charm is the affection that underpins the rudeness and this particular song had none of that. I was shocked, by the way, to discover that some people had never heard of another, admittedly cruel but very funny song about our Danny. You’re welcome. And, yes, it will be the first thing that comes into your head when you wake up tomorrow.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Brill you liked the LD4SOS fringe 🙂 issues coming out of it are still being pursued too – not just a hour between debates.
    As for security, the first time ever I have had to explain about my epipens.
    The Glee Club – tops. keeps me going from conference to conference, and I am looking forward to getting the words for “all we want is a part time submarine”. it says so much about Lib Dems that we can ( and are even allowed!) to have a good and passionate debate on something that is crucial and yet divisive – and then all of us sing our hearts out together on that song, as well as “we shall overcome” with the line “we shall ban the bomb”, and we link hands and sing together.

  • Louise Bloom 25th Sep '13 - 10:21pm

    Ryan was at the Glee Club but he did look a bit shocked by the proceedings!

  • Good review of the conference, Caron. And nice to meet you for the first time there .
    The link to the Danny Alexander song in the final pragraph doesn’t work.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 26th Sep '13 - 7:59am

    Good to meet you too, Scott – and I’ve fixed that link. Have another look. You won’t regret it.

  • In general the security was OK-ish except that while the First Aid facilities were behind the info. desk in the conference hall, the Medical Room with nursing staff was outside the secure area. Thus, my partner, who sought advice from the first aiders was escorted to the Medical Room ( note escorted ) by them but then not allowed back ( still escorted ) without going outside and through the security tent. Just the thing you want when you aren’t feeling too well. Especially silly as he has a heart pace maker and can’t use the X-ray machines and has to have a manual ‘ patdown’ search!

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