Conference: the good, the bad and the ugly

Now that I’ve had some sleep and recovered from the fun of Federal Conference in Brighton, I thought I’d share with you some of the highs and lows of a thoroughly enjoyable five days.

The Good

When Shami beat Paddy:  You don’t often see Paddy Ashdown being completely bested in an argument, but Liberty director Shami Chakrabati managed it with aplomb. Paddy said in his speech to a packed Liberty fringe meeting  that secret courts were fine as long as everything was overseen by a Judge. Shami went for him. She said she knew she was abusing the chair, but it was her meeting and she’d do what she liked. She demolished his arguments to the great satisfaction of the room. At that point, it should have been clear to the leadership that they had absolutely no chance of winning the vote the next day.

The secret courts debate: This debate showed the Liberal Democrats at their best, getting to grips with a difficult subject. The leadership had lined up popular MPs Julian Huppert and Alistair Carmichael to put their case. Carmichael’s speech was well-crafted and had exactly the right, reassuring tone, but Conference was never going to be persuaded. There were no speakers on the side of the amendment who weren’t in Parliament. In contrast, there were some passionate and persuasive speeches from motion proposer Jo Shaw, whose remarks were published in full on this site on Friday, first time speaker Ruth Edmonds and Jo Hayes among others. Bridget Fox said that if secret courts had been allowed, she would never have been able to clear her name when she was reported to the Standards Commission.

Jo Swinson’s speech: Jo’s debut platform speech as a minister was a statement of intent as to how she was going to make the workplace more equal and working life more fulfilling for people.

She said:

I feel incredibly lucky to be doing a job I love, as MP for my home seat of East Dunbartonshire. I’m also really enjoying the new Ministerial post with all the exciting challenges it brings.  But like most people in this hall I expect, I know what it’s like to have a job where you’re clock-watching, or feeling unfulfilled.  I have worked in a fast-food restaurant where the cries of “how many bodies do we have on the tills?” made me realise I was less a valued member of staff and more a production machine.  I have worked in the Disney store, where even for someone with my cheery disposition, the enforced perma-smile was too much to bear.  And I have worked for a local radio station, where the great charity work we did at the grassroots was measured by the parent company solely in terms of positive column inches, which was so demoralising for the team.

Without a doubt, I know that I have been at my most productive, creative and effective when I have relished going to work. It’s only natural.  When employment has risen significantly but GDP has not, we do need to ask the question, are we doing all we can to unleash the potential of our most precious resource – our people?

It was practical, relevant and emotional as she mentioned her 99 year old Nana at the end. It even had a Doctor Who reference. You can read the whole speech on my blog here.

Citizens UK thanking us for delivering on our pledge to end child detention for immigration purposes: I wrote about this colourful and emotional event last week. Citizens UK are now running campaigns to get employers to pay the living wage and on restraint purposes during deportations.

Assisted dying debate and Dignity in Dying fringe: Our decision to press for legislation on medically assisted dying came at the end of a harrowing, emotional and high quality debate. Speakers gave accounts from their own personal experience of caring for sick and dying relatives. Ian Swales and Lorely Burt were two MPs who spoke in favour. The fringe run by Dignity in Dying two days later looked at where we go from here. Particularly moving was the account from the family of a doctor who had the best possible palliative care as she died, but who still suffered terribly.

The Bad

The economic growth debate: I wish Conference had been allowed to have a full debate on the economy. The Party’s Federal Conference Committee chose Liberal Left’s amendment rather than one which would have been much harder for the leadership to defeat. The atmosphere could have been electrifying.

The family wasn’t complete: I know at least 20 people who didn’t go because of the system of police accreditation just in my circle of friends. They were missed.

 The Ugly

The weather: Saturday was glorious, but then the coast was lashed by wind and rain. I am not a slight person and I was almost blown over. Funnily enough, the weather calmed down after Nick Clegg’s speech. If that was all it was going to take, we should have moved it forward to Sunday afternoon.

The media: Their desperation to find someone willing to trash Nick Clegg was palpable. They found virtually nobody willing to do so. And when they couldn’t get what they wanted, they just made it up. Nottingham’s Alisdair McGregor was quoted in the Financial Times (who should know better) saying, about Paddy Ashdown’s appointment as General Election Chair:

 He doesn’t just march towards the sound of gunfire, he will raise the dead.

What Alisdair actually said, and I know this because I was standing next to him, was “He doesn’t just march towards the sound of gunfire, he runs.”

 The Frivolous

I managed to escape to Peter Andre’s coffee shop and I can report that the chocolate milk shakes are delicious.

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

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This entry was posted in Conference and Op-eds.


  • Richard Dean 30th Sep '12 - 2:55pm

    Well, Caron, you have your view, and others can have other views. In my case, I think I disagree with you on almost everything! Perhaps I should join some other party?

  • Tony Dawson 30th Sep '12 - 3:17pm

    “The media: Their desperation to find someone willing to trash Nick Clegg was palpable. They found virtually nobody willing to do so”


    I don’t think that John Harris found this too difficult to assemble, even if one discounts Lembit:

  • Paul McKeown 30th Sep '12 - 3:37pm

    Errr, Richard, perhaps you should simply state what you disagree with and present an alternative view?

  • Richard Dean 30th Sep '12 - 4:17pm

    Thanks ,Dave, Now I know that LibDems are completely fragmented and cannot possibly have a coherent policy.

    Thanks, Paul, I basically disapprove of Caron telling me what I should think. Do you?

    Following Dave’s wonderful suggestion, I will now go and ;p. But I may still be a LibDem when I get back, though perhaps my mood will be lighter! 🙂

  • @ Richard

    Was the coast not lashed with rain?

  • Richard Dean 30th Sep '12 - 4:52pm

    @Psi. That’s a tricky one! Perhaps I can ask Alpha and then Omega to respond? Ah, but I see Eta has an objection? No, no, it’s Theta, or liitle pi? Is that you, Squiggle, in the corner? I can hardly see through the haze of disagreement!

  • Richard Dean 30th Sep '12 - 4:59pm

    Returning now to some form of sanity and equilibrium … Yes, but rain is good, it sustains life, and it really didn’t lash – not like a hurricane! It’s all relative, and soon I hope to be standing in a vaguely vertical orientation.

  • I think Richard disagrees about the chocolate milkshakes being delicious

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 30th Sep '12 - 6:19pm

    Richard, I’m sorry you feel so annoyed by my post. It’s my personal view and I have no desire to tell anyone what they should think. Liberal Democrats are not always going to agree with each other and, frankly, I’m not really into this “if you disagree you’re in the wrong party” kind of stuff. We’re all who we are and the range of Liberal Democrat views is huge.

    Perhaps if you would like to tell me exactly what it is you disagree with so much, we could discuss it.

    Oh, and I got soaked to the skin between the Conference Centre and the Metropole on more than one occasion and was nearly blown over by a gust of wind as I approached the Conference Centre so I know that we definitely had some weather.

  • Richard Dean 30th Sep '12 - 6:35pm

    Well, I am vertical again but I might be upside down, people around here are pointing in every direction.

    Not being personal or anything, it seems to me that the unthinking condemnation of rain is symptomatic of a party in crisis. We like the environment but we really don’t want to experience it. We want chocolates, and no secrets, so we reject the ideas of secret trials and that some people in the real world are very very bad. We won’t change the NHS but we want it to be better. We don’t like tuition fees but we don’ want out middle squeezed to pay for them.

    There are deeper issues . How will Caron understand people like me, who live and work in the rain, without the comfort of chocolates? Our bodies and minds are different – mine is used to the rain. And if they cannot understand each other, how can a LibDem in Manchester gangland agree anything much with one in Wealthy Wokingham?

    In summary, which way is Up? 🙂

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 30th Sep '12 - 6:57pm

    Richard, isn’t the whole point that we all have different experiences and all bring something unique to the discussion? Isn’t this a good thing?

  • I like the wind and rain, but then I grew up in Scotland. It makes for excellent by-election weather. So long as you have a plastic bag to stop your leaflets turning back into wood pulp, you can go out leafletting knowing that Labour and the Tories will be staying at home!
    However, it is important to check whether your chocolate milkshake was a “sugar loaded drink” and would fall foul of the Irn Bru tax that conference approved.

  • Richard Dean 30th Sep '12 - 7:30pm

    Yes, indeed Caron, that is what we are doing now, I’m glad you like it! I am bringing something different to what you brought, and indeed Al and others are bringing new things too too! Great stuff! Soon we will have a boot sale!

  • Richard Dean 30th Sep '12 - 7:39pm

    If we are all different, we want and like different things, and our experiences have given us very different understandings of words and worlds, what makes us a party?

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 30th Sep '12 - 9:27pm

    We are a party that values & celebrates diversity. Our respect for individual freedom is one strand that tens most of us together. Civil liberties are guaranteed to unite most of us.

  • Richard Dean 30th Sep '12 - 10:24pm

    Thanks, Caron, that certainly agrees with my impression of a major focus of discussion on LDV.

    But are civil liberties enough to win an election? And what purpise is a party that can’t win power? I learn that LibDems now have 8% support amingst the electorate, while Labour have something like 40%. That low 8% can’t possiby be the fault only of one person.

    Isn’t it time that LibDems stopped focussing on rights and started thinking and agreeing realistic practical and costed proposals to address real world problems? Nothing turns an electorate off more that the kind of disunity that was evident over the NHS issue.

  • Richard Dean 30th Sep '12 - 11:25pm

    Thanks, phlw, but it’s you who don’t seem to have answers!

    Are LibDems aiming to only be a pressure group? Or do they aim higher?

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 1st Oct '12 - 7:47am

    I think it’s important that our policies reflect our values and are not written so that the Daily Mail is happy with them. How would you feel if you were put on trial and the case against you was discussed by a spook and the judge?

    And why should we not put our policy through a rigorous test against an amendment which might appeal to more than a few in the room – which was available.

    And what’s wrong with being thanked for ending child detention?

    We are remarkably united considering what we have been through these past couple of years.

  • “I know at least 20 people who didn’t go because of the system of police accreditation just in my circle of friends. .”

    Really? Re-ally? On principle? Or because of their ‘complex identities’. Or because they’re a bit disillusioned and/or short of cash but want to be seen to be ‘principled?

  • Richard Dean 1st Oct '12 - 10:50am

    What good are values and principles if they cannot be put into effect?

    Is this party planning on being in 4th or 5th place in 2015?

  • Matthew Green 1st Oct '12 - 11:39am

    Well Richard, I was at the conference, and certainly don’t agree with Caron’s article on a lot of things, but I still enjoyed reading it. Not sure that she was really attempting to explain party strategy and values. I was at conference and certainly felt that the party was on course for thrd in 2015, though not in 2014 (the Euros). But I don’t suppose you would agree with me.

    But I thought there was something rather magnificent about the weather, even though I got soaked twice. And an appropriate metaphor for the party’s fortunes. I kept seeing this rainbow in the distance…

  • Richard,
    I think you need to decide what you want to achieve.

    If you wish to help the party continue with our record of achievement then your contributions will certainly be valued.

    So please can you try to enter into the spirit of things by being more constructive.

  • Yusuf Osman 1st Oct '12 - 12:39pm

    Just to add to what Caron has written above. I thought the welfare debate was excellent because there were so many contributors like me who have a disability and were talking from personal experience of what welfare cuts have done to them, or what they expect they will do. That perspective is rarely heard and I hope councillors, MPs and Peers were all paying close attention.

  • we should all remember that almost all the ‘opinion polls’ are written, operated, paid for and then reported by our OPPONENTS.. which is why they rarely say anything of comfort to us.! At various times I have been a respondent to two national polls, I stopped responding to each when I found that regularly I was not able to give the answer that I wanted to give, and when I could see, between the lines, the agenda that they had been asked to justify (and then within days saw the press report I predicted).
    Don’t worry about the stats, they can be spun to tell you anything. Just hope that Leveson has the courage to demand a media that serves the public and supports a democracy.

  • Richard Dean 1st Oct '12 - 2:02pm

    Oranjepan. Perhaps you might try to be a bit less patronizing sometimes? Is this really a party that wants to suppress all criticism?

  • Thanks Richard, it’s always good to discover what a person thinks of you.

    And you’re right, debating different viewpoints is often of the muted variety on this site, at least from the evidence of this thread – what would the world be like if we all agreed with each other all of the time!

    Having followed your comments for some time now it really does strike me that you’re feeling a bit disengaged, so this time I’ll be more direct – what do you want to help achieve?

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