Opinion: My conference awards

Best Fringe meeting:

The Liberator/ Lib Dem peace group “War on Terror”, with Craig Murray, former ambassador to Uzbekistan. There were some terrific fringe meetings this year, but this one was breathtaking.

Craig Murray was sacked from his position in Uzbekistan because he was determined to speak out against the appalling abuses of human rights in this country.

Uzbekistan is an “ally” in the war “against” terror and an important strategic country for the mining and transportation of important natural resources. It is also a totalitarian state with an appalling human rights record that easily compares with Iraq under Saddam Hussein or North Korea.

Craig spoke of how the government there claims that the opposition is part of Al-Qaeda. The government uses torture to force alleged opponents to admit they know a list of people they have never heard of before, and this “intelligence” is used by western intelligence agencies to “prove” that Al Qaeda is operating in Uzbekistan, and hence we support the government there. The “intelligence” services even know this is the case – because Craig told them – but they prefer the narrative to the truth.

The words “45 minutes” spring to mind.

I would like to write more, but it is best to read his own words in his book.

The meeting was at times very funny, and at other time horrific.

Most Important Fringe meeting:

Reinventing the State book launch – since the publication of the Orange Book, some Lib Dem members have got over-excited and started proclaiming the Lib Dems as a doctrinaire free market party. David Laws himself has claimed that his controversial chapter was misunderstood, and this fringe meeting proved to be an important correction. The anti-state rhetoric of both the Tories and the Lib Dems may sound similar at times, but the Conservative preference for a small state is very different from the Lib Dem preference for a decentralised state.

It was good to see such a wide range of speakers including Chris Huhne and Nick Clegg. And now I sense the party is a left-of-centre party again, as Ming said it would be under his leadership.

This fringe meeting was a book launch so here is the link.

Best speeches:

Paddy Ashdown was on top form at the fringe. He has so much charisma I could almost imagine that he could announce he was going to open a window and get a rapturous round of applause. However I was really struck by his humility when he said about his support for military action in Iraq that he now believes that we were right to oppose the war and that he was wrong. That took a lot of courage I thought.

But of course the best speech was the big one; Ming’s speech at the end. I’ve spoken about that elsewhere.

Most interesting question:

In the overall sweep of things the question may seem trivial, but it has troubled me for a while and I am glad someone asked it. In the discussion about the environment, someone asked whether we should ban Formula 1. And the rather unexpected answer was that instead of banning it, there is actually scope to make it significantly more environmentally friendly instead. Some eco-cars, if that is the right name for them, can accelerate from 0 to 60 in 4 seconds apparently.

Most clever motion:

I thought beforehand that the motion on the Arab-Israeli conflict would be the most controversial debate of all. Yet in the end we all supported a motion that both the LD Friends of Israel and the LD friends of Palestine could both happily support. Whoever had the diplomatic skills to achieve that should be sent to sort out the real conflict in Israel straight away.

Most irritating journalist:

I don’t know if any of the journalists did a good job of reporting our conference, but plenty did a bad job. Top of my list goes to Andrew Neil, who is employed by the ‘impartial’ BBC.

We all know that Andrew Neil hates the Lib Dems. In his evening conference report on BBC 2, he remarked, “Tomorrow the Lib Dems debate excess packaging, which no doubt we will get from a lot of their speeches as well”.

Of course he should ask the difficult questions, but most of what Andrew Neil came up with were tedious and repetitive. Day after day we did NOT debate the leadership of the party, but that was translated by the BBC, and Andrew Neil in particular as being all that the conference was about. I really wonder how the MPs he interviewed managed to restrain themselves from punching him in the face.

* Geoffrey Payne is secretary of Hackney Liberal Democrats.

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One Comment

  • Richard Gadsden 17th Oct '07 - 7:17pm

    Craig Murray was sensational; I bought a copy of his book immediately after returning from conference and am alternately appalled and in hysterics of laughter at the contents.

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