Conference: curtain up!

Liberal Democrat Voice at Conference

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Wilkommen, bienvenu, welcome…

In just under one calendar month’s time, folks, many of you and all of me will be struggling down to Bournemouth on the Friday night trains for what promises to be a fascinating conference. Over the next month, we will bring you sneak previews of the policy motion debates, straight from the teeming brains of the people who drafted them, and for a conference count-down fix while we wait for the main thing I can but recommend the preliminary agenda with its rather fetching picture of Bournemouth-at-dusk.

…im Konferenz, a la conférence, to conference!

If you can’t make it down this year, you’ll want to keep an eye on our conference coverage, which will include every major policy debate, as many fringe events as the LDV team can collectively attend (determined with reference to a given limit of canapes and complimentary white wine consumption) plus all the usual gossip, colour and other dispatches from the LDV bunker (we’re hoping we might get a window this time) – this year in extra-minty Twitter and podcast flavour.

So, what can we expect from Bournemouth? I feel I should justify my sense that this year will be important. After all, the description “turning point” as applied to party conferences is such a commonplace in political commentary as to be almost meaningless. Who doesn’t long for Nick Robinson to turn to camera and say,

Well, all the talk in the bars tonight is of what a regular, solid conference this is with some constructive policy discussion, one or two exceptionally interesting fringe events and some pretty good speeches, but I’m told by one or two senior front benchers that the hotel parking token system leaves a lot to be desired…

No, the media are likely to make much of our time in Bournemouth and for once they may have a point. What their take on events will be I dare not even guess, but to my mind there are three supra-issues which will crop up again and again, whose resolution (or lack thereof) will define the way we move towards a General Election.

1. Make it Happen. Natch. There has been a balanced reaction in the media and a warm reaction in the party (or the section of it that is active online, anyway) to what is still called, in the Prelim Agenda, the “Vision and values” paper. The fact that the world-at-large believes Make it Happen represents a radical shift in policy – when in fact it mostly consists of existing policy with a couple of prefigured twists – could work in our favour. If you believe – as many outside observers do – that the policy basis of Make it Happen is all about Nick Clegg, a storming vote in support of it must needs be interpreted as a storming vote in favour of his leadership. But hey, I’m sure they (the Evil Wizards, of course!) will find a way to spin it otherwise.

I for one will be eagerly ear-wigging in Bournemouth to try to work out whether the paper party supports it as strongly as the online party does. Come to that, I appreciate the value of Make it Happen more by the day – not because it tells me anything I don’t already know, but because it’s going to make damn useful shorthand for conversations in Bournemouth. And damn useful shorthand is, after all, exactly what we need.

2. The Bones Commission. Will the real Bones Commission report please stand up? I am somewhat aware that the lack (so far) of consultation on this report on the party’s internal management  is something of an activists’ issue, and that comparatively few conference-goers will attend the consultative session at which some profound changes to the party structure will be discussed. But can the party afford to alienate its activists? I mean, who’d win them all the by-elections?… What, what did I say?

3. Those Labour target seats. The scale of our success in the 50-odd seats in Labour’s crumbling heartlands might be more dependent on what mood-music comes out of Bournemouth than you think. As activists and party members we tend to believe the “real” work gets done on the ground in those constituencies in the run-up to a General Election. But conference time is national media coverage bonanza time for us in a way that isn’t true of the other two parties. We’d better be prepared for the fact that  Autumn Conference ’08 will be one of the few hefty chunks of national air-war messaging to penetrate those newly targeted seats before the next election. And when I say “We had better be prepared” I mean “Lord Rennard had better be prepared”.

But we’re still a month away – and while these three issues will overarch everything, who knows what else will crop up in the meantime?

Tomorrow: write for Lib Dem Voice at conference! We beg you and will be your best friend for ever tell you how…

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This entry was posted in Conference and News.
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8 Comments

  • Hywel Morgan 13th Aug '08 - 11:43am

    “comparatively few conference-goers will attend the constitutional debates at which some profound changes could be made to centralise the party structure.”

    The deadline for constitutional amendments has passed so any of the bones proposals won’t be (formally) debated at conference.

  • Grammar Police 13th Aug '08 - 1:03pm

    Hmmm, writing for LDV at conference, maybe . . . maybe not! Not sure yet.

  • David Evans 13th Aug '08 - 8:31pm

    If it’s a skeleton, shouldn’t it be buried?

  • Alix Mortimer 14th Aug '08 - 10:08am

    @Hywel, oops, thanks for that. Had misunderstood – duly amended.

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