Conference now and then

Due to family commmitments, it’s a few years since I’ve had a full-on five day blast of conference. I did the odd day here or there during Menzies Campbell’s leadership. But I think my last proper conference saturation was during the Charlie Kennedy days.

Before that, my wife and I came regularly, often putting our daughter in the creche.

But time moves on, so this year I had a window of opportunity to “pig out” on Liberal Democracy, acting, very proudly, as a conference steward – something I have done periodically in the past.

My absence has allowed me to clearly compare the current conference arrangements with those in the past.

There is a very sharp contrast in the security arrangements.

During the nineties, I remember that on one occasion I saw a policeman standing by the Brighton conference door for the arrival of Paddy when he was leader. One policeman. I think they were expecting some riled LDYS folks to jostle him. But I remember feeling very proud that our party was in the big time with one policeman.

The security was so lax that I remember regularly walking into the conference centre via the the back entrance and not being challenged.

But now, half of Sussex constabulary are here together with dogs and dog handlers, vans, people carriers, point bobbies for several miles around, scores of security guards, airport scanners and a vast steel cordon sanitaire thrown around both the conference centre and the Grand Hotel. Security is as tight as a drum.

And, of course, unlike the old days, I had to fill out a form which had to be checked by the police. The form was painless to fill out. A bit like an insurance form. The only question which had me searching for info was: “On what date did you move into your current home?”. Not month – date. Fortunately, I quickly the found the date in my wife’s extraordinary filing system.

Strangely, the security checks don’t bother me. It’s par for the course nowadays. The security guards are jovial folks. My how we laugh.

And once you’re in, you’re in. There is a comfortable feel about the conference auditorium. The party stewards now have no security duties and concentrate on stewarding the debates. Everything is very well organised. The stewards team has taken on an extra level of professionalism.

The actual debates, and what goes on in the hall, have not really changed. The set has been updated. You no longer get random odd bods wondering onto the stage to sit on the platform. The audio visual presentation is of a much higher standard and there are a lot more cameras.

But, basically, it is a still the same old Liberal Democrat conference, complete with reference back, seperate votes and points of order. People are still very patient with speakers, but occasionally lose their cool with the chair or Federal Conference Committee. The debates are still very earnest, display an extraordinarily high degree of expertise and cover, together with the fringe, every topic under the sun.

There’s still a comfy party family feel with the odd falling out.

Most of all, people still get up and say:

I disagree with the motion because it does not go far enough.

That’s always been my particular favourite.

But it still takes a very strange beast to want to spend five days at conference. Normal human beings need not apply (and I mean that affectionately).

Oh, and the other thing that I’ve noticed is that everyone, obviously, looks a bit wiser and older. Except Lembit. He seems to look like he did in the early nineties. It is quite weird to see people now who I first saw scampering about as LDYS folks in the nineties. Tim Farron is a key example, but there are many others, such as Sarah Teather.

I’m making myself feel old…

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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2 Comments

  • Mike Falchikov 24th Sep '12 - 12:46pm

    Glad you enjoyed your time at conference, Paul, and good to know it’s still much the same – apart from the security, which is the reason that I won’t be there as long as I have to get permission from the police. Bag searches, yes, of course,even body searches I can live with and some element of covert surveillance is maybe inevitable, but police accreditation is a step too far. Anyway, I’d probably fail the residence test, as I could only name the month and year I moved to my present address, not the day. Why the heck would they want that amount of detail anyway – I’ve never been asked for anything closer than the month by any organisation?

  • Paul Holmes 24th Sep '12 - 2:47pm

    I wouldn’t worry too much.

    I moved into my current home in 1986 and I do not have the faintest clue what day it was, so I made that bit up (I think I got the month right but I’m not sure even about that)

    The ‘Orwellian 1984 style state security machine’ let me in anyway!

    And yes the police and security staff have been brilliant -even laughing when asked 9minus swearing), if we could take a bicycle out through the gates.

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