Defiant Conference rally sets out Liberal Democrat anti-brexit stall

The Conference rally is always an opportunity to enthuse the Liberal Democrat conference goers and to set the tone for the whole weekend.

Last night’s was a gritty show of defiance of a Government that refuses to listen to any sort of reason over Brexit, contempt for an opposition that helps them on their way and a strong statement that only the Liberal Democrats will stand up for the rights of the British people.

There were five speakers in total.  The rally is always a mix of key local campaigners and parliamentarians. Proceedings kicked off with Hina Malik. She spoke of her deep commitment to campaigning for diversity and women’s rights. She had initially joined the Labour Party but found their lack of progress on this frustrating. Meetings with Simon Hughes and Nick Clegg inspired her to join us. If you are worried about extreme brexit, she said, the Lib Dems are on your side.

Then came our fabulous Manchester Gorton by-election candidate Jackie Pearcey. She invited us all to Gorton, saying that there wa huge potential for a good result. People there, in a constituency which voted to remain, felt very let down by Labour’s stance. “It’s either us or Labour in Gorton,” Jackie said, “so let’s make it us because Labour don’t deserve to win.”

Then it was Nick Clegg’s turn. The remarks trailed in advance where there in spirit but he spoke powerfully off the cuff with no autocue and had the hall very much agreeing with him. He is very good at distilling some very complex issues into very clear messages and compelling words.

One of the first things he did, though, was to ask people who had joined the party in the last two years to stick their hands up. They constituted about a third of the hall.

He went on to talk eloquently about the idea of the EU, created to heal the divisions of two bloody wars and to keep the peace in Europe. It is always, he said, better to work with your neighbours than to turn in to chauvinism and false promise of nationalism.

As at Scottish Conference last week, he warned that the Brexiteers, Trump, Le Pen, Wilders and other populists try to unpick the pillars of our democracy and delegitimise all the checks and balances that protect us from abuse. The Brexit elite has taken control of this country and only the Liberal Democrats stand against it. He hasn’t always got on so well with Tim Farron, but that relationship has got a lot warmer. Nick is not one to give praise if he doesn’t mean it and he cited “magnificent” Tim Farron’s stand against the brexiteers’ power grab.

His final point was that young people voted in huge numbers for a pro EU future. Our duty is to help them.

He then introduced Sarah Olney for her first speech as an MP. There was such warmth in the hall as she thanked the party for coming to help her win, remembering the weekend when 1000 Lib Dem activists took to the streets.

Oppositions, she said, said what they thought and we weren’t going to stand by while Theresa May burnt all our bridges.

She spoke of an elderly widow who came to her constituency surgery in tears, fearful that she would be sent back to a France where she hasn’t lived in 40 years. This is your Britain, as much as it is ours, Sarah said to EU nationals.

And then it was Tim Farron’s turn. After a few pops at George Osborne’s new job, he went into his usual passionate barnstormer mode.

It set the stage for a weekend where we can showcase our ideas and our positive and optimistic alternative to the bleak future on offer from all the others.

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

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  • Red Liberal 18th Mar '17 - 9:57am

    I joined the LDs last month after being a member of Labour since 2001. As well as rejecting the thuggery I saw at my local CLP from Corbynista entryists, I could not stand to be a member of a party which has turned into Red UKIP. We already have three UKIPs in this country, red, blue and purple, good on Tim for seeing that we do not need a fourth UKIP! Tolerance, cooperation and internationalism must not be allowed to perish in the United Kingdom.

  • Richard Underhill 18th Mar '17 - 12:24pm

    How will George Osborne get to work in London? Will he take an Uber-taxi? or use a Boris-bike? or will there be a flat above the shop? Will he using HS2 to reach his constituency? or will his banking colleagues provide him with an executive jet to and from the London STOLport? It does seem a pity that Martin Bell stood down, he made a promise to the constituency and kept it although the constituency wanted him to stay.

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