My first Liberal Youth Conference

When I first learned of the location of the 2009 Liberal Youth Autumn Conference, I immediately paid my £15 to register. I had only been to one party conference before – the 2007 South West regional, which included the leadership hustings – so I was unsure of what to expect.

I only knew one person who was going, and I was tired and annoyed at the rain, not to mention the parlous state of the trains that evening. But when I arrived in Portsmouth, there were helpful signs pointing to Conference. This was an excellent omen of what was to come.

The Conference began with speeches from three great speakers – Dave Hodgson, the new Lib Dem Mayor of Bedford; Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Leader of Portsmouth Council; and Floella Benjamin. All of them spoke passionately and eloquently on recent Lib Dem success, and the prospects for the future.

As I mingled with other delegates, it became clear that this Conference was going to be very good indeed. After dinner, we got to know each other better, and took part in a rather competitive quiz, which was thoroughly enjoyable.

The next day, we got down to some serious work. There were six debates on subjects from the Student Loans Company to Digital Britain.

Each of the debates were full and frank exchanges of views. They were all extremely important, not just covering so-called ‘Youth issues’, but touching on wider subjects, such as ensuring the future of British rural life by supporting our pubs and trying to address the gap between abortion services in Great Britain and in Northern Ireland.

On the Student Loans Company debate, which concerned the utter failure of the Student Loans Company to help students, I proposed an amendment which called for the parliamentary party to take a tougher stance on the issue. I gave a short, rather nervous speech and thoroughly enjoyed it.

The amendment and the motion were both passed. It felt great to see such a polite, cordial and eloquent debate. It was akin to the debate in the House of Commons by MYPs.

We’ve all heard the rumours of divisions within Liberal Youth, focused upon by parts of the national media who overlook such divisions in other parties. Yet when I arrived at Portsmouth I found a movement united, focused on debate to decide the best policies to fight for in the Federal Party.

We also took time out to support the local Party, leafleting (in hail, no less – I guess that shows I’m really a Lib Dem). We heard Catherine Bearder MEP putting an eloquent and brilliant case for the European Union, and Mike Hancock MP giving us insights into Portsmouth politics, his background, and experiences as an MP.

After dinner, we received a brilliant presentation from KidsCount, an organisation which engages with people my age to help solve the problems affecting our age group. It was inspiring to see such excellent work when we are consistently told that we are violent, drunken louts who deserve national service. Their work is a strong testament against that.

On Sunday, our focus switched to constitutional amendments – the proposal to establish a paid sabbatical Chair was rejected – and the emergency motions.

The constitutional amendment debate was a lively debate which covered quite a few areas. I was completely undecided. Both sides had very good arguments but I ultimately voted against. It was an extremely difficult vote to decide.

The emergency motions, on drugs policy in light of the Nutt sacking and on nuclear power after Ed Miliband’s recent pronouncements on the issue, were very different in tone. The drugs policy debate was largely uncontroversial – I was the only person to vote against calling for the sacking of Alan Johnson, for example – whilst the nuclear power debate was a lot more competitive.

This was undoubtedly because the motion was pro-nuclear power. There were a number of amendments proposed – all of which were passed and all which improved the motion – only for the motion to be defeated quite heavily (I voted for the motion as amended, for the record).

The conference ended with the election of the Vice Chairs for Finance and Campaigns, won by Alan Belmore and Alex Royden, who thoroughly deserved to win. We were then shown videos from various party bigwigs, which rounded off the Conference very nicely.

I arrived at Conference not knowing to expect, and with declining interest in Liberal Youth as my university workload increases. I left having met a highly talented team of General Executive Members, led by the Chair, Elaine Bagshaw, and some great members of Liberal Youth, who were really engaging and formidable debaters.

It has ensured my interest in Liberal Youth for a long while and I even tried to sign someone up the next day, something I wouldn’t have done before! Keep a close eye on Liberal Youth’s work and, if you’re in the age range, to join up and get involved. It’s really worthwhile.

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